Congress Election Observation Mission

Elections for the Yerevan Council of Elders, Armenia

5 May 2013

Statement by Stewart DICKSON, Head of Congress delegation – Press Conference, 6 May 2013, 12:00, Hotel Marriott, Yerevan

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Stewart Dickson, I am Member of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly, United Kingdom. On behalf of the delegation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities I am pleased to present to you preliminary conclusions following yesterday’s observation of the elections for the Yerevan Council of Elders.

You may know that the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is a political assembly including more than 600 local and regional elected representatives from 47 Council of Europe member States. The assessment of at the grassroots level of democracy is one of our core missions. Armenia has joined the family of Council of Europe member States in 2001 – and by doing so accepted to respect our common values, in particular the fundamental principles of Europe’s electoral heritage.  This is why a Congress delegation composed of 12 members from nine European countries was invited to Yerevan to observe the vote of the members of the City Council and – as a consequence – of the Mayor of the Armenian capital. Let me add that yesterday the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities was the only international organisation to monitor these elections.

All in all, the members of our delegation were deployed to more than 100 polling stations in the 13 electoral districts of Yerevan and observed the electoral process from the opening hour to the closing including the vote count.

Before giving you feedback on the observations made by our delegation on Election Day, I would like to speak about the meetings which we have held from Wednesday, 1 May, on and about specific issues raised by our interlocutors. You may know that our programme included briefings with members of the diplomatic corps, NGO and media representatives, mayoral candidates registered by the parties and with governmental representatives. In a nutshell, we were informed about the following matters of concern in respect of yesterday’s elections:

-       there was the question of those citizens who do no longer live in Yerevan but have stayed on the population register and thus on the voters’ lists; we from the Congress believe that this problem needs to be addressed by the authorities in order to avoid potential misuse and is of particular importance from the grassroots’ perspective since local issues should be decided by those citizens who actually live in a specific community;

-       we received reports by some of our interlocutors about pressure exerted on public service employees to vote in a certain way and to persuade also other voters; there was also the recurring issue of vote-buying; also in respect of these allegation we urge the Armenian authorities to put an end to this situation in order to ensure an electoral climate without intimidations or cash incentives;  if this is reality or perception – it undermines the trust of the citizens in the electoral system and therefore harmful;

-       we have noted with satisfaction that by the new Electoral Code of Armenia the authorities undertook a shift from a partisan to a non-partisan model at the level of the Central Election Commission and the Constituency Electoral Commissions and that the stakeholders had the opportunity to become familiar with the provisions of the Electoral Code;

-       more generally speaking, we were satisfied to hear that there is some progress in respect of the strengthening of the system of checks and balances and with regard to media freedom and anti-corruption measures.

Let me now speak about observations made by Congress observers on Election Day.

With the exception of a few incidents, in those polling stations visited by the observation team of the Congress, the vote was carried out in a calm and orderly manner and the elections were technically well prepared. The secrecy of the vote was largely respected and the use of envelopes can be seen positively in this respect - though it contributed to the long and tedious vote count at the end of the day. 

Also, it seems that the quality of the ink used for stamping the passports has improved compared to previous elections. It would appear that there was more control in polling stations by the provision that only 15 voters were allowed to enter at the same time. The new Electoral Code ensures clarification on providing assistance to voters in polling stations and this proofed to be positive on Election Day.

In addition, I would like to stress that the composition of Precinct Election Commissions – as stipulated by the Electoral Code, each party and alliance represented in the Parliament had a representative in the local electoral board and there were two representatives of the Constituency Electoral Commission – ensured better opportunities for the contesters to scrutinise each other.

Turning to the cameras present in each polling station and the practice of extensive filming by different stakeholders: on the one hand this adds to the transparency of the process.  However, members of the Congress believe that this could be counter-productive and instead of increasing transparency – as it was meant to be - create mistrust among voters about overly-controlled electoral processes. The use of mobile phones, in particular during the vote count, was very obstructive and there should be measures taken to limit this practice.

In this context, I would like to mention the extensive number of domestic observers present in polling stations. In the majority of the cases, we were unsure about a number of local NGOs and media outlets; their intentions remain ambiguous to the members of our delegation and it could be suggested that these observers were also acting on behalf of political parties or alliances.

As mentioned before, there were also a few incidents in certain polling stations such as multiple- and carousel-voting and we will follow-up the results s of formal complaints in this respect and incorporate this information, if necessary, to our comprehensive written Report which will be prepared in the next weeks.

Let me conclude by thanking the Armenian authorities for their valuable support which contributed to the successful conclusion of this Congress mission. You may be aware that Armenia is taking over the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe in ten days and that this is a crucial moment for your country and its rootedness in the family of the 47 member States. I would like, on behalf of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, encourage the Armenian authorities to seize the opportunity of this Chairmanship and go ahead with further improvements of the legal framework, the electoral practice and the environment in which elections take place.

 Let me quote, in this respect, the Council of Europe Venice Commission, who said that Armenia’s Election Code has the potential to ensure the conduct of democratic elections but legislation alone cannot ensure this. There has to be fair play without intimidations or other infringements prior to Election Day and there have to be effective procedures to follow-up possible complaints and ensure remedy afterwards. Without this secure environment there will be no genuinely democratic elections – and without genuinely democratic elections there will be no improvement in the trust of citizens in the electoral system.  In the case of local government, no improvement in the lives of citizens can take place without mayors and council members understanding that it is their responsibility to serve all citizens, not just those who voted for them.