Observation of the elections for the Assembly of Aldermen (Avagani) of the City of Yerevan, Armenia, held on 5 May 2013

Session of the Chamber of Local Authorities, 25th Congress Session, 30 October 2013

Speaking Notes, Stewart Dickson, Head of Delegation

I would like to thank the Congress for the opportunity to participate in observing these elections, and to add that it was an honour to lead such a mission.

To begin, let me share with you some basic information on our mission: a 12 member Congress delegation including three representatives of the EU Committee of the Regions observed the elections for the Assembly of Aldermen (Avagani) of the City of Yerevan on 5 May. All in all, we visited more than 100 polling stations in 13 electoral districts of the city and found that the elections were technically well-prepared and conducted in a calm and orderly manner.

We were also pleased that – with regard to the composition of the different election commissions – a shift was made from a partisan to a non-partisan model which the Congress had already recommended in 2009. The new Electoral Code in Armenia ensures better opportunities for the participants to scrutinise each other – we welcomed that.  Also in line with a previous Congress recommendation, there was more control in polling stations by the provision that only 15 voters were allowed to enter at the same time.

Looking at the country as a whole, the delegation noticed some progress with regard to the strengthening of the system of checks and balances and with regard to media freedom and anti-corruption measures.

However, there are some issues which still need to be addressed by the Armenian authorities, in particular in respect of voter registration, the practice of filming and photography in each polling station - which seems exaggerated -  and the use of mobile phones, in particular during the vote count, as well as the extensive and high number of domestic observers present. Our delegation also received reports about pressure exerted on public service employees to vote in a certain way and to persuade other voters, as well as the recurring issue of vote-buying.

As a consequence, the Congress invites the Armenian authorities to take the necessary steps to make the Electoral Code more specific in a way that makes the main place of permanent residence – in addition to registration – be a condition for voting rights at local level. To allow citizens no longer living in Yerevan to vote, simply because they stayed for years on the State Population Register, may lead to “phantom voters”. This is not in the interest of genuinely democratic and fair elections, and may stifle the voice of local electors who should be the only people to have a say in the delivery of local services. We firmly believe that local questions should be decided by the electorate actually living in a specific community.

Furthermore, we encourage the Armenian authorities to change the provision in the Electoral Code concerning the right of domestic observers, proxies and media representatives with regard to photographing and videotaping in polling stations. This practice gave the impression of overly-controlled election processes and could create mistrust among voters.

Also, we propose to introduce a provision to limit the use of mobile phones in polling stations, in particular with regard to the vote count, during which the use of such phones was very disturbing.

A sensitive issue to be addressed by the Armenian authorities remains the problem of vote-buying and subtle and not-so-subtle pressure-making on voters. Members of our delegation noticed a tense atmosphere due to groups of men lingering outside some polling stations. To increase the trust of citizens in elections, allegations of pressure on voters and vote-buying – whether this is reality or perception - should be avoided. Therefore, those provisions which are enshrined in the country’s Criminal Code, in particular with regard to financial incentives and the exertion of voting rights, should be effectively implemented.  It is simply not good enough to say that no complaints equal no problems.

Let me conclude that – in line with our colleagues from the Venice Commission – we in the Congress are convinced that the legislative framework of Armenia has the potential to ensure genuinely democratic elections. But legislation alone is not enough. We therefore encourage the Armenian authorities to fully and properly implement all applicable provisions, and thus engage citizens in their democratic right to vote.

I would like to thank Renate Zikmund and Carol-Anne Hughes for their support, and also all the members of the delegation who worked so hard and finally the people of Armenia on whose behalf we undertook this mission.  I look forward to our recommendations being acted upon and democracy strengthened in Armenia.

I thank you for your attention.