ELA Presented its Observation Report Following the Observation Mission Held in the Framework of the Citizen Observer Initiative
On January 24, the NGO Europe in Law Association presented its observation report following the monitoring of 2 April 2017 parliamentary elections in the framework of the Citizen Observer Initiative.
H.E.Piotr Antoni Świtalski, Ambassador, Head of the European Union Delegation to Armenia made welcoming remarks thanking the rank-and-file Armenians who participated in the observation mission and invested efforts in the improvement of the electoral process in Armenia. The Ambassador mentioned that the European Union provided 7 mln Euro for improving the quality of elections in Armenia, thereby providing 90% of the amount necessary for the procurement of the VAD equipment.
“But there are other elements of our support which are also very important and in some respect even are more important than the technical aspect. What I have in mind is in particular the observation, civic observation activities. European Union provided through different channels half a million, more than half a million Euros to support overall the observation effort.’
Ambassador Piotr Świtalski expressed appreciation of the readiness of the Armenian citizens to participate in observation missions:
‘The civic observation plays a very important role. From our perspective as I said the fact that people are willing to participate in this effort, speaks very well about Armenia and the ordinary Armenians, because participating in the electoral process in this capacity is a school of citizenship, mature citizenship, of civic activism. So I encourage our partners to maintain contacts with people who work doing elections, stay in touch and form a coalition of mature citizens who will be engaged later in different forms, in different capacities in the process of improving the electoral standards in Armenia.’
Stressing the importance of public confidence in electoral processes, the Ambassador noted that all the stakeholders of the electoral process are concerned about this issue and expressed hope that there will be a day when there will be no need for technical equipment and publication of the signed voter lists given the fact that the desired level confidence will be achieved.
Lousineh Hakobyan, President of the Europe in Law Association presented the key issues and steps taken in the framework of the observation of the 2017 parliamentary elections. She noted that at the start of the observation mission the website of the Citizen Observer Initiative (www.citizenobserver.am) was created through which around 4000 citizens were registered for observation and trained by ELA lawyers. Around 160 trainings were held in different regions of Armenia. ELA also trained about 40 lawyers and 100 call center operators. Lousineh Hakobyan also recalled the contribution of the 147 Diaspora Armenians, including our famous compatriots and 100 foreign observers. As regards the observation of elections, Lousineh Hakobyan mentioned that the COI monitored the 38 Territorial Electoral Commissions (TECs), which was one of the innovations of the methodology employed by the Initiative. The mission also had 36 mobile observers. The observation was carried out in 1522 polling stations, which constitute around 76% of all polling stations in Armenia.
As regards the OSCE/ODIHR, stressing the importance of the role of this organisation in electoral processes in Armenia and indicating that compared with the reports of last years this report was more concrete and detailed, Lousineh Hakobyan noted that they would like to see a report, which is more balanced, which incorporated also the views of civil society and opposition alongside those expressed by the Government.
Tigran Yegoryan, Senior Legal Adviser with ELA presented the main changes to the electoral legislation in the period preceding the NA elections, noting that the Electoral Code adopted after the constitutional amendments foresees an essential change in the rules of the game and that many of its provisions are worrying.Among positive amendments Tigran Yegoryan stressed the making of the signed voter lists publicly available and the installment of cameras in polling stations. However, he assessed the fact of absence of audiorecording by the cameras as negative in terms of failure to fully capture the registered violations. In his opinion “the VAD equipment did not meet the public expectations in view of the fact that their data were not made available to the stakeholders of the electoral process with a view to ensuring its transparency.”
David Gyurjyan, a Senior Lawyer from ELA spoke about the amendments to the criminal legislation in the context of elections. He noted in particular that the sizes of the foreseen sanctions were increased as well as additional sanctions were foreseen for the perpetrators of electoral violations, such as deprivation of the right to hold a position in LSGs or bodies of public administration and to be involved in any capacity – commission member, proxy and observer – in an electoral process, which was a positive development. However, the problems lie more in the shortcomings of the law enforcement practice. The lawyer expressed concerns regarding Article 154.8 of the Criminal Code: “We believe that this amendment was made with a view to balancing the positive effect of the publication of the signed voter lists with a chilling effect on people who would otherwise report such crimes. This article would prevent them from reporting as they would know that even in case of negligence they may be subjected to criminal liability.’
Yeranuhi Tumanyans, Advocate with ELA presented the main violations having occurred during the 2017 parliamentary elections. She spoke about the involvement of public officials in the election campaign and noted as an example the election campaign carried out by Prime Minsiter Karapetyan and President Sargsyan in the course of the official meetings held by them, as well as use of the administrative resource by public officials in general. Touching upon the information regarding the incidents of vote-buying, the speaker noted that a number of public officials, including Vladimir Gasparyan, RA Chief of Police and Edward Sharmazanov, the NA Vice-Speaker admitted the existence of vote buying, stressing that this crime is difficult to detect, while NA Vice Speaker Hermine Naghdalyan announced that vote-buying is philanthropy.
Attorney Aramazd Kiviryan touched upon the process of complaints launched following the detection and recording of electoral violations. He noted in particular that the overwhelming majority of TECs appointed sessions for the examination of electoral complaints on the same date and at the same time and notified the representatives of observers and NGOs of these sessions 1-2 hours before these sessions with a view to excluding their participation from these sessions. Mr Kiviryan also emphasised that the whole process was orchestrated by the CEC as admitted by some of the TEC chairpersons by stating that they had sent the complaints to the CEC and were waiting for decisions from the latter. In addition to this, the CEC provided TECs with templates for refusing the complainants’ complaints. As regards the process in the courts, Mr Kiviryan noted that so far court fees in the amount of around 3 mln AMD have been paid for the courts to admit the complaints. The further appeal process will cost the NGO another 17 mln AMD. This is a new development as in 2013 the courts exempted the complainants from paying court fees for electoral disputes.
In his concluding remarks on the obstacles to the process of complaints Tigran Yegoryan stated that the legislation foresees all that is necessary to obstruct the process of complaints and the CEC skilfully implements these provisions of law in practice. ELA’s Senior Legal Adviser also spoke about the limitations for NGOs to submit complaints on violations of general electoral rights (actiopopularis), as testified by the fact that the RA Constitutional Court refused admissibility of the NGOs’ application despite the fact that in its decision on the application of ANC-PPA political alliance the Constitutional Court stressed the important contribution made by the Citizen Observer Initiative to the electoral process. The Constitutional Court stressed the importance of effective examination of the reports submitted by observers, in particular relating to open voting, group voting, directed voting and presence of unauthorised persons in polling stations, as well as those concerning the pressure exerted by public servants and private sector employers. The Constitutional Court set priorities for the public authorities, including overcoming the concerns expressed by international and domestic observation missions regarding the manifestations of political corruption considering them a public policy priority and placing them high on the agenda of the authorities to reinforce legal security in the country. The body administering constitutional justice in Armenia also emphasised the importance of necessary and effective steps to overcome abuse of the administrative resources in Armenia.
Finally, the Constitutional Court stressed the need for further improvement of the administrative proceedings on election-related disputes and examination of the complaints by TECs in a timely and effective manner.
You may get familiarised with the report by visitinghttps://citizenobserver.am/en/elections/reports .
The observation mission was carried out in the framework of the project ‘Public Oversight Over 2017 Parliamentary Elections’ funded by the European Union and co-funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, National Democratic Institute and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Georgia. The content of this press release is the sole responsibility of the Europe in Law Association and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union, the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Georgia.