BY TAMARA S. VOSKANIAN
YEREVAN–Following Yerevan’s May 5 municipal election, in which a variety of voting day violations were observed by election monitors, attorneys have filed approximately 160 complaints with the Territorial Electoral Commissions of the four Precincts representing the following three districts of Armenia’s capital: Sebastia-Malatia, Shengavit, and Erebuni-Nubarashen. The initial complaints had to be filed by 6 pm on the Monday following the elections – an extremely short deadline given the number of recorded violations. On May 8th at approximately 3 pm, the Electoral Commissions for the above-mentioned precincts notified the attorneys who filed the complaints that all four hearings were scheduled to take place at 7 pm that same evening, within several hours of the call.
During the hearings, the four Electoral Commissions uniformly dismissed all the applications on procedural grounds, without allowing the attorneys a chance to present their cases. Each of the four rejections were worded identically, although they purported to address different allegations, strongly indicating that the decisions had been pre-determined. The attorneys believe that the texts were supplied to the Territorial Commissions by the national Central Electoral Commission (CEC), thereby depriving the attorneys of pursuing what would have otherwise been the next step: appealing the decisions of the Territorial Commissions to the CEC.
Consequently, the attorneys have now decided to appeal the Territorial decisions directly to the Administrative Court – a court whose decision will be final and not subject to appeal. The attorneys are also working on a strategy to file a case with the Constitutional Court of Armenia. The goal of this lawsuit is to have the Constitutional Court extend the deadline for the filing of complaints with the Territorial Electoral Commissions, allowing a reasonable amount of time to prepare the cases. In this lawsuit, the attorneys will also be asking the high court to give election observers the same right to challenge the validity of the vote at polling stations that political parties and their proxies currently have.
The complaints that have been filed to-date allege a variety of infringements of the rights of voters, election observers and media representatives, and general violations of Armenia’s Electoral Code. Allegations include the following acts that were witnessed and recorded by observers:
Commission presidents failing to record violations in the registry, as they are required to do.
Party candidates entering polling stations during voting, which is prohibited by law; when asked to leave, coming back and posing as a party proxy.
Instances where more than one party proxy was present at a polling station; the law allows each party only one proxy per polling station.
A Republican Party commission president using violence in polling station 7/15.
One instance where a commission member allowed someone to vote in place of her sister, who was not physically in Yerevan on election day.
Two instances in which video camera equipment was stolen.
The goal of filing the complaints is not necessarily to overturn the final results of the election, as the margin between the parties who took first and second place is significantly large . Still, registering violations and documenting the lack of action by electoral authorities in the face of apparent fraud is a crucial step in the post-election process. Through strategic litigation and a continuous campaign of pressure on the electoral authorities, attorneys hope to bring about necessary and positive changes to both the country’s Electoral Code and the behavior of the authorities, with the ultimate goal of developing Armenia’s election process into one that is truly free, fair and transparent.