Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Armenia elects President: 1st round of voting

*I have regularly updated this post throughout the day

May I just say, how much disgust I feel reading, hearing and watching reports on violations, attacks, intimidations… Sad, very sad… and shameful… As long as current authorities are in power, there will be no prospect for free elections in Armenia. There will be no prospect for democracy in Armenia, just a mockery of it.

A painfully true summary of what happened in Armenia today

RFE/RL: “I can’t even call this event an election,” said Stepan Safarian, a Zharangutyun [Heritage]leader who coordinated the party’s vote-monitoring activities. “In many cases, polling stations resembled a battlefield because there were constant reports of threats, violence and the most ugly forms of fraud.”

“I have monitored elections in Armenia since 1996 and have never seen anything like this before,” Safarian told reporters. “This is a disgrace for our country and this government.”

(A1+ reports; video via A1+)

Today a group of fellows intruded into Precinct 11/10 located in School N35 and began beating Levon Ter-Petrossian’s proxy Jora Azarian. They turned out to have stolen the seal and were trying to stuff ballots. Jora Azarian had noticed it and taken efforts to prevent their further stuffing.

The boys put to flight after noticing A1+’s camera fixed on them. When our group was leaving the precinct, they attacked the group and tried to grasp the camera. But all their efforts were doomed to failure.

A few minutes ago A1+ got an alarm that the same fellows entered the precinct and beat Jora Azarian. They again attempted to stuff ballots but Narine Azarian, representative of the “Zharangutiun” (Heritage) Party in the commission, stood in their way and lay on the ballot box.

To note, the chairman of the commission Hranush Ghazarian stated that “everything is normal in the precinct. They had observed no irregularity or violation.”

RFE/RL: Armenian Opposition Cries Foul Amid Reports Of Violence, Fraud

Presidential hopeful Arthur Baghdasaryan election campaign team claims that the “atmosphere of intimidation of people, threats and beating rules in the polling stations” (Mediamax).

His voice added also secretary of parliamentary fraction of opposition “Heritage” party (which endorses Levon Ter-Petrosyan candidacy) Stepan Safaryan stating in Yerevan today that “mass violations are registered everywhere” during the presidential elections in Armenia. Mediamax reports that Stepan Safaryan stated that the “initiators of the illegal actions are the supporters of presidential candidate, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian”. In particular, MP condemned the “mass delivery of rural residents to Yerevan polling stations and distribution of bribes at the sum of 5 thousand drams to them”.

Concerns re voting of the army soldiers

Panorama reports that after visiting four polling stations, the Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Anne-Marie Lizin called for consultations to discuss issues connected with the voting of the army soldiers. She did not specify the issues or what kind of consultation was needed. (photo via Panorama)

Business as usual in my local polling station

My local polling station in central Yerevan is one of those places where elections have never been marred by any reported irregularities. Today was no exception. Around 5pm Yerevan time my parents cast their votes. There were no queues at that time, although there was never ending flow of people to cast their votes. My parents did not notice any irregularity, everything went calm and in accordance to regulations.

Unfortunately, the situation in many polling stations right now raises concerns. And according to reports, along with a number of places elsewhere, the situation is especially worrisome in Gyumri, Abovyan and Vanadzor cities.

While provocations are reported from all sides, it is clear that most reported voting irregularities and violations come from people supporting prime minister and directed against opposition or non-government candidates, particularly Levon Ter-Petrosyan.

ArmeniaNow reports (here and here) on numerous cases of voting irregularities, including open voting in Vanadzor, ballot stuffing, assault towards journalists and proxies of candidates at polling stations. It remains to be seen how significant these and other reports are in terms of their effect on election results.

Radio Liberty in its afternoon broadcast confirms reports coming from various sources on incidents of bussing voters to polling stations reportedly by pro-government people.

People queue to vote

My friends report from many central Yerevan polling stations that turn out of voters is apparently high and they have to wait in a queue of 50-60 people to cast their votes.

Hetq (Investigative Journalists of Armenia) continues reporting on various voting irregularities.

A1+ reports that its cameraman was beaten by unknown group of drunken people. When they reported this incident to European observers’ OSCE mission in Yerevan, they’ve been told that no free observer is available.

Local GALA TV station recorded incidents of bribing of voters in Armenia’s second city Gyumri (Panorama; A1+)

Neighbours vote

My normally pessimistic neighbours (“nothing will change, as usual” was their routine phrase during all recent elections) sounded surprisingly upbeat after they cast their votes early this morning in one of central Yerevan polling stations. They were hopeful that at least this time their votes will matter. Everything was calm at the time of their voting. Too early to say, of course, but positive sign, nevertheless.

PM ‘not so sure’, after all?

Perhaps for the first time, and perhaps for international consumption, prime minister Serj Sargsyan discussed the possibility of second round of voting in an interview with Reuters published last night .

"If there is a second round I would prefer to fight against Levon Ter-Petrosyan," Sarksyan told Reuters on Saturday.

"It will answer many questions and will bring calm to our country ... if there is a second round and Levon Ter-Petrosyan runs, he will lose overwhelmingly," he said.

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