YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Two government loyalists were sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday for rigging the results of the May 31 municipal elections in Yerevan in one of the polling stations.
Norik Yeghiazarian, a member of the precinct election commission in the city’s western Malatia-Sebastia district, and another local resident, Armen Ohanian, were arrested on June 2. Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) charged them with stuffing 15 fake ballots marked for the ruling Republican Party into the precinct ballot box. Yeghiazarian represented the Republicans in the commission.
Both men pleaded guilty to the charge at the start of their trial in a Yerevan district court. The trial lasted for about 20 minutes, with the presiding judge handing down verdicts demanded by prosecutors.
Malatia-Sebastia was the scene of the largest number of irregularities that were reported by the Armenian opposition, mass media and independent observers on election day. The reports led to the recounting of ballots cast in about a dozen local precincts and the arrest of at least three local election officials.
One of those officials, Onik Aleksanian, chaired a local precinct commission. It is still not known whether he is related to Samvel Aleksanian, one of Armenia’s wealthiest men who holds sway in Malatia-Sebastia.
The opposition and some independent election monitors believe that the tycoon was behind widespread voter intimidation, vote buying and other irregularities reported there during the polls. President Serzh Sarkisian, who is also the Republican Party’s top leader, clearly does not share this view, having made a joint public appearance with Aleksanian last week.
Sarkisian and his top allies have portrayed the election-related criminal cases opened by the SIS as proof of their commitment to eradicating Armenia’s culture of electoral fraud. Opposition leaders dismiss those cases as public relations stunts that have had little impact on what they see as fraudulent official results of the vote.
Law-enforcement authorities opened more than 20 such cases following Armenia’s last presidential election held in February 2008. The vast majority of individuals arrested and prosecuted as a result were supporters of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian. One of the oppositionists is now serving a six-year prison sentence, the harshest election-related punishment in Armenia’s history.
Yeghiazarian and Ohanian are apparently the first government loyalists to ever go to prison for vote rigging. Both men might walk free soon as a result of a prisoner amnesty planned by the Armenian authorities.