Armenia Elections - 1999
The May 1999 parliamentary elections showed continued improvement toward compliance with OSCE commitments, but still failed to meet international standards. Nonetheless, during the election, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) noted improvements in the electoral framework and the political environment. Freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression were respected during the campaign. The previously banned party ARF-Dashnaksutyun reentered political activity in 1998. The May 30 elections took place under a new electoral code that represented a substantial improvement compared with previous legislation and incorporated recommendations of international organizations. For example the code provides for the accreditation of domestic nonpartisan observers. It abolishes one level of election bureaucracy (the community election commissions) and provides for the courts to address electoral complaints during the campaign rather than after results are announced.
However, election administration was uneven on election day. In many precincts, election officials, candidates' proxies, and domestic observers worked together to provide transparent voting and counting procedures. The areas of most concern witnessed by OSCE/ODIHR observers included the poor quality of the voter lists, which often were outdated or inaccurate; mistakes in registration; voting by military personnel; problems in the formation of the election commissions and the status of their members; and the presence of unauthorized personnel in precincts during voting and counting procedures. Thousands of voters had to appeal to local courts on election day in order to cast their votes, after finding that their names had been left off local voter lists. Opposition parties such as the National Democratic Union, the Self-Determination Union, the Communist Party, Hayrenik, and Azatutuyun criticized the exclusion of numerous residents from the lists. The Central Election Commission blamed the omissions on the negligence of some civil servants. Twelve criminal cases related to parliamentary election fraud, involving 16 persons, remain under investigation by the Prosecutor General's office at year's end.
In the May 1999 parliamentary elections, many observers witnessed soldiers closely supervised by their commanding officers and left alone for a few minutes to cast ballots; in some cases, soldiers were instructed to vote for the Unity Alliance. In addition press reports and a number of election observers noted that supporters of many candidates offered both monetary and other inducements to voters to encourage votes for their candidate.
In the October 1999 municipal elections, the three major problems were: the politicization of election commissions, obsolete or incorrect voter lists, and the use of old seals (the election law mandates that new ones be provided by regional election commissions for each election, as a check on ballot box stuffing), presumably because the funds were lacking to buy new seals.
Four districts of Yerevan held local by-elections on July 11. In the Achapniak district, violence erupted when armed supporters of one of the candidates beat and fired upon supporters of another candidate. The Central Elections Commission suspended this vote and declared it invalid. A criminal investigation was launched, which resulted in the arrest of 14 persons; the police still are seeking 10 more persons allegedly involved in the Achapniak violence. Those arrested are being prosecuted, but at year's end, the accused were free on bail and were not brought to trial due to continuances requested by their attorneys. The by-election in Achapniak was rescheduled 6 weeks later. Neither of the candidates whose followers were involved in the original violence ran in the rescheduled election, although they were not barred from doing so. The election took place without incident.
Further improvements were made to the electoral framework and election administration for the October 24 municipal elections of community mayors and councils of elders. Candidate proxies, media, domestic observers, and international observers were entitled to monitor all stages of the election process; however, international observers did not monitor all stages. Shortly before the election, an amendment addressing procedures for military personnel to participate in municipal elections was passed, restricting military voting to the place of the soldier's permanent residence. This amendment, in practice, prevented a majority of the military from voting, as many soldiers were stationed far from their permanent residences and cannot obtain leave to return home to vote.
On October 16, the Constitutional Court struck down the Law on Local Self-government and the Law on Refugees, which prohibited refugees with permanent residence ("propiska") in Armenia from participating in municipal elections, concluding that they were in conflict with the Constitution and provisions of the electoral code. The Constitutional Court decision gave refugees with permanent residence the right to vote in such municipal elections. Nevertheless, by presidential decree, municipal elections were postponed in communities where refugees make up more than 50 percent of the population.
Mayors and other community heads, in conjunction with relevant authorities, updated and significantly improved the voter lists before the October 24 municipal elections. As a result, the number of citizens appealing for inclusion on voter lists in the Court of First Instance was reduced significantly. Council of Europe observers described the October 24 election as free and fair; however, the observers noted several minor irregularities, including use of previously used seals (the law provides that new ones should be provided for each election as a check on ballot box stuffing) and defects in the voter lists. However, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the newspaper Haykakan Zhamanak, few parties fielded candidates in the elections other than the two progovernment coalition parties. The nonpartisan, professionally trained Armenian election observers from "It's Your Choice" highlighted serious flaws in the distribution of power within election commissions, and inaccurate voting lists, noting that "many voters whose names were not on the lists, out of weariness and frustration, did not appeal to the court and thus could not exercise their constitutional right." This group's election report suggests that there were only serious multiparty contests in less than one-third of the precincts.
Following the October 27, 1999 assassination in Parliament of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchian, and six other officials, a period of political instability ensued during which an opposition headed by elements of the former Armenian National Movement government attempted unsuccessfully to force Kocharian to resign. Riding out the unrest, Kocharian was later reelected in March 2003 in a contentious election that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the U.S. Government deemed to have fallen short of international standards.
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