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LIVE BLOG: Armenia Votes
03 April 2017

14.00 CET / 16.00 Yerevan

We thank our readers in Armenia, Europe the United States and beyond who have been following this live blog over the last three days, and those who have read and commented on our twitter and facebook feeds. This blog is now closed.

13.45 CET / 15.45 Yerevan

We are coming to a close with this live blog. We asked commonspace.eu political editor to sum up the events of the last days:

"These elections have been described as a turning point, yet they leave us with question marks as to where or what Armenia is turning to. The constitutional changes mark a new begining, and some steps have been taken in the right direction. But as the report of the International Observation Mission highlights, many of the problems of the past linger on and have not been properly addressed. In the end what matters is the assessment that the Armenian people themselves give, be it in the media, social media, or one suspects, more quietly in their discussions with family and friends. That will define the work of the government in the future. We have seen unprecedented levels of civic activism. This energy needs to be galvanised in the right way. The government should not be afraid of civl society and should work with it as a partner." 

A similar view was expressed by our guest analyst on this blog, Richard Giragosian. he told commonspace.eu

"After intense scrutiny and raised expectations, the recent election now stands as the prelude to the process of transition and transformation to a parliamentary system. This only means that the same level of civic activism and attention must be sustained".

13.15 CET / 15.15 Yerevan

We now have the full statement of the International Observation Mission. You can read it here

In it they say that

"The 2 April parliamentary elections in Armenia were well administered and fundamental freedoms were generally respected. Despite welcomed reforms of the legal framework and the introduction of new technologies to reduce electoral irregularities, the elections were tainted by credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies. This contributed to an overall lack of public confidence and trust in the elections"

Yesterday's elections marked a first step towards establishing a new political system in Armenia, but change cannot happen overnight," said Ignacio Sanchez Amor, Special Co-ordinator and leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission. "Reform is a never-ending process, and I encourage the parliamentary majority and the new government to continue their efforts to transform the country's political culture, in partnership with the opposition, civil society and the international community." 

"There is little doubt that, since the last time the citizens of Armenia voted, efforts have been made, including through logistical improvements, to raise the quality of the electoral process. The authorities should be praised for working to inform the electorate of this new, quite complex, electoral legislation. It is a pity that, despite all of the legal and organizational changes, these elections did not remove long-standing doubts about the reliability and integrity of electoral processes in the country," said Liliane Maury Pasquier, Head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. "The use of new voting technologies cannot alone restore confidence in elections - crucial in a genuine democracy - just the same as better legislation is only effective if applied in good faith.

“The new electoral procedure was complex and not always understood by the voters. Nevertheless, polling station staff made strong efforts to ensure a smooth process. Regrettably, the process was undermined by credible, recurring information of vote buying, intimidation of voters notably civil servants in schools and hospitals and employees of private companies as well as abuse of administrative positions,” said Heidi Hautala, Head of the delegation from the European Parliament. “The European Parliament will work closely with the future Armenian National Assembly to support reforms and democratization, in line with our commitments as part of the deepening EU-Armenia relations.”

You can read the IOM press release in full here

13.05 CET / 15.05 Yerevan

The head of the European parliamentary delegation Heidi Hautala said that the recommendations of ODIHR after the elections will form an important part of the scrutiny of the new EU-Armenia Agreement which will have to be approved by the European parliament.

12.40 CET / 14.40 Yerevan

The International Observation Mission (IOM) has started its press conference. We hope to bring in detailed comments shortly, but the impression so far is that the mission is very critical of the elections. There are already references to credible reports of "vote buying, pressure on public servants and intimidation of voters" Lilian Pasquier head  of the Council of Europe Mission said that they felt that "fear and resignation was stronger than hope". The IOM welcomed the calm atmosphere on election day.

12.00 CET / 14.00 Yerevan

It now seems that the press conference of the International Mission has been brought forward to 14.30 Yerevan time. We will be covering the event.

The mission is a joint undertaking of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the European Parliament (EP).

The statement will be delivered by Ignacio Sanchez Amor, Special Co-ordinator and leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission, followed by Liliane Maury-Pasquier, Head of the PACE delegation, Geir Jorgen Bekkevold, Head of the OSCE PA delegation, Heidi Hautala, Head of the EP delegation, and Ambassador Jan Petersen, Head of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission.

The international election observation mission comprises some 450 observers from 42 countries, including 340 long-term and short-term observers deployed by the OSCE/ODIHR, 66 parliamentarians and staff from the OSCE PA, 24 from PACE and 13 from the EP.

11.35 CET / 13.35 Yerevan

Now that the Republican Party has been assured five more years in power, what are the challenges ahead? We asked our guest analyst Richard Giragosian to share his thoughts:

Safeguarding the future of Armenia: after the initial euphoria of the electoral victory of the ruling Republican party, some sobering facts are in order.

First, the reality is that with re-election, comes a responsibility to govern, and a related responsibility to govern responsibly. And as part of that is a responsibility to protect, and safeguard the future of this country;

Second, with campaign promises comes accountability. And because campaign promises are too easy to make, especially by the Prime Minster, who specifically and personally pledged to bring in "billions" of dollars in new investment, popular expectations have been raised people expect to see the next government at least try to fulfill its own vows. Moreover, Armenians do (or at least should) have a long political memory.

Third, and most significantly, the problems and challenges facing the country are only getting worse, and necessitate strong and effective leadership. Unlike the voters, economic problems and entrenched corruption cannot be easily persuaded (or fooled).

And fourth, with the election of a genuine opposition, there is a need to engage in constructive politics, based on compromise and concession, in pursuit of the public good and national interest, not self-interest.

Finally, this newly elected parliament must meet its own expectations, as an institutional power center, responsible to elect the next prime minister and to take part in the selection of the next president. This means a new mission, which has never yet been demonstrated, to exercise oversight and democratic legislative initiative.

Good luck to the next government- they will certainly need it.

11.30 CET / 13.30 Yerevan

More praise for Armenian civil society and domestic election monitors. They are fast becoming the heroes of the piece.

11.15 CET / 13.15 Yerevan

Whilst some in Armenia have welcomed the election result as a step for stability and continuity, not everybody is convinced. We asked a young Armenian scholar, Sos Avetisyan, a graduate of Oxford University and free thinking analyst how he see the election result. Here is his answer

Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that political science fails to capture the realities of Armenia. The usual labels of patrimonialism, clientalism, strong coercive state will not explain to an outsider why in Armenia the RPA despite gross failures in both domestic and foreign policies was able to secure the necessary majority (49.15%) to govern Armenia for at least five more years. Debunked and baffled many in Armenia again started to accuse the people that they have sold their souls to the ruling regime. However, what should be acknowledged beyond the apathy is how did this happen? Do people really sell their vote for 10,000 AMD (20 euros) or do they get something beyond that.

The answer rests not in political understanding of the situation but rather anthropological-historical lens. The connoisseur of Soviet history would draw a parallel to Stephen Kotkin's famous quote of "speaking Bolshevism" where he explained how the people over time have internalized the ruling philosophy of the Bolshevik party. While the regime in Armenia doesn't have particular philosophical approach to state-building, nevertheless the values that they have championed either symbolically or politically have triumphed. The population in Armenia has learned to speak "Republicanism", they sell their votes, they guide their families and friends to polling-stations and they keep silence or simply lie when asked if they have voted for the RPA. The poverty has turned into the most potent tool in the hands of Armenian regime. If you speak "Republican" you will be granted upward mobility if not, you will be left out of the game. This simple philosophy in Armenia where collective and family has always prevailed over individual and citizen, works remarkably well. 

10.45 CET / 12.45 Yerevan

The Observation Mission of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has said that everything with the Armenian election was fine. "The elections were held in accordance with the Constitution and the Electoral Code", the head of CIS observation mission Sergey Lebedev told a press conference in Yerevan this morning. "The use of administrative resource by the ruling party were within reason", Lebedev said. Other mission members also said that the elections were organized properly and in accordance with the legislation of the country. The CIS observers said they had not received a single complaint during their mission. The mission said they will produce a 15 page report which will be on their website shortly.

10.30 CET /12.30 Yerevan

One group which was very active in the election observation process was the domestic NGO Citizen Observer. They are at the moment holding a press conference with the findings of their monitoring. They claim to have recorded more than two thousand violations during election day

 

10.00 CET / 12.00 Yerevan

More on the issue of what happens next; Our guest analyst Richard Giragosian tells us the following:

Now that we see the composition of the next Armenian parliament, and the election may be over, this is only the start of a much deeper degree of real political change, as the process of political transition and transformation to a full parliamentary system raises fresh concern and new worries. All this to come through the year, against the backdrop of deep discontent, economic crisis and the looming threat of renewed hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh. If ever a time for leadership and statesmanship; at least civic activism has demonstrably defeated apathy.......

09.40 CET / 11.40 Yerevan

Now that the elections are over no doubt there will be much soul-searching about what has and has not happened. Unfortunately many asspects of Armenia politics lack transparency, but the election process itself will need to be examined. At  16.00 local time this afternoon the international observation missions will give their initial assessment of the elections. That is important especially for Armenia's future relations with the European Union. But a much deeper, and in a sense much more important assessment will need to be given by Armenian society. Some have already started:

09.20 CET / 11.20 Yerevan

The Chairman of the Armenian Central Elections Commission has just appeared on Armenian Public TV to announce the results of the elections. Based on these results it is now possible to calculate the amount of seats to be allocated to each party that has passed the threshold.

 In the new 101 parliament the distribution of seats will most likely be:

- ruling Republican Party: 55 seats

- Tsarukian bloc: 30 seats

- Yelk (Exit) bloc: 9 seats

- ARF Dashnak party: 7 seats

09.05 CET / 11.05 Yerevan

To assess the significance of the election result we asked for a comment from our guest analyst on this blog, Richard Giragosian, Director of the Regional Studies Centre in Yerevan.

Looking quickly at the results of the Armenian parliamentary election, there is little surprise that the ruling Republican Party secured an estimated turnout of nearly 50%, and that the Tsarukian bloc garnered a little less than 30%, although the Tsarukian bloc seemed poised to win significantly more votes than the official statistics show.

And while the third place finished, the opposition Yelk (Exit) bloc, did well, its appeal always seemed broader than its 8% showing. And in fourth, the pro-government loyalists of the ARF Dashnak party, was generally relying on a solid base of support of about 5% regardless.

The demise of the Armenian National Congress (ANC) of former President Ter Petrosyan was also a reflection of their decidedly discredited political position, affirming that their time has largely passed.

For many, there was relief that the Armenian Revival (Renaissance) party of Artur Baghdasaryan failed to meet the threshold.

And the Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian bloc, despite Raffi Hovhannisyan, was never able to credibly distance itself from a government that it long served and supported, and failed to escape the looming legacy of its close ties to shadowy former President Robert Kocharian....

Good Morning! It is Monday, 3 April 2017;  09.00 am in Brussels (CET) and 11.00 am in Yerevan, Armenia. Welcome to this live blog on commonspace.eu.

Results from the Armenian Parliamentary Elections held yesterday are in. With nearly all votes counted (2005 precincts reporting) the ruling Republican Party has emerged as the clear winner, securing 49.15% of the vote. In second place, but trailing far behind with 27.37% of the vote is the Tsarukyun Alliance. Two other parties, the Helq Alliance, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation have passed the threshold, securing 7.78% and 6.58 % respectively.

None of the other parties have secured enough votes to be represented in Parliament. This means that many key personalities of Armenian politics of the last twenty five years, including former President Levon ter Petrossian, former Defence Minister Ohanyan, former Foreign Minister Oscanian, Presidential runner up Raffi Hovhannesian and former Parliamentary speaker Baghdasarian are now all part of extra parliamentary opposition.

We will be assessing the results and the implications for Armenia and for the region throughout the day with the help of our panel of experts in Brussels and Yerevan.

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THIS LIVE BLOG IS NOW CLOSED AND WILL RESUME TOMORROW AT 0900 CET / 11.00 YEREVAN. For updates throughout the night you may visit our twitter feed or facebook page commonspaceEU

18.00 CET / 20.00 Yerevan

Polling has now closed in Armenia's Parliamentary elections. Voting has taken place in an overall peacefull atmosphere, but independent monitors have registered hundreds of violations. Counting is expected to start soon and continue throughout the night. This live blog is now closed and will resume tomorrow at 0900 CET/ 11.00 Yerevan

17.30 CET / 19.30 Yerevan

With only a few minutes of polling left, we asked our political editor to give us some reflections of what has happened so far:

This election has been held largely peacefully, and we need to welcome that first and foremost. The process is not finished yet. The laborious counting process and post election period is yet to come, but the overall calm environment in which the election campaign and the voting has taken place are already a positive thing. The parties campaigned intensively since 5 March, although the difference in the scale of resources between government and opposition parties was striking. Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of this election has been the activism of civil society organisations who have held the election process to account. They have documented in great detail many shortcomings, and perhaps worse than shortcomings. Now all this information needs to be digested to see if what has happened were isolated incidents, or if there was enough of it for it to constitute a premeditated plan to disfigure the result. We will have to wait for more data to emerge. What we have been reporting throughout the day constitutes only anecdotal evidence. Vote buying and attempts to interfere with the secrecy of the ballot - and the two are connected - are the more serious problems so far, and they seem to be widespread As we move into the counting phase other issues may emerge. Overall therefore the glass is neither full nor empty, but we cannot say yet how full or empty it is. That will have to wait a few more hours.

16.55 CET / 18.55 Yerevan

 

 

 

 

As the clock starts ticking for the close of voting we can have a look at what happens next. Armenia's new political system is rather complicated. There are 13 districts, and each of the nine parties and blocs contesting the elections has a national list, and a list for each of the 13 districts. Both will have to be counted, although once the result of the national list becomes clear, the other counts will be mainly related to personalities. As this process is going on - and it may turn out to be a rather long process, elections observers will start issuing their conclusions. We know that Citizen Observer, one of the largest and best organised groups, has a press confefrence tonight at 22.00 at the Marriot Hotel in Yerevan. But ofcourse all eyes will be on tomorrow's press conference by the OSCE/ODIHR and the parliamentary assemblies. That should start at 16.00 local time.

Parties will need 5% of the vote to pass the threshold, and 7% if they are a bloc or alliance. For those still needing to catch up on the nine blocs and parties and what they stand for their is a useful primer on evnreport.com which you can read here

 

16.30 CET / 18.30 Yerevan

We cannot verify this, but Hetq.am says one of its readers, Meri Hovhanissian, sent them this picture of the famous camera in polilng station 6/02, suitably covered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

16.15 CET / 18.15 Yerevan

There are less than two hours of voting left, and already we can see two narratives emerging. It will not be easy to reconcile them, as our guest analyst, Richard Giragosian has pointed out to us:

As unpopular as it may be to say, the toughest challenge of assessing today's elections is the imperative to seek the right balance-- and to fairly judge whether the violations or irregularities in today's vote are pervasive enough to constitute a truly flawed election.
And finding that balance is not easy, especially in a small country like Armenia, where it is not only difficult to maintain a degree of objectivity or impartiality, but is also difficult to maintain a proper distance from the outcome. 

15.55 CET / 17.55 Yerevan

Radio Liberty Armenian Service has details of eight cases in polling stations 1/01, 2/19, 3/06͵ 9/47͵ 9/12͵ 9/55, 7/59͵ 7/58.(read it here in Armenian). These cases are being currently investigated by the elections administration.

The voting process of the parliamentary election is proceeding normally, said the spokesman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, Eduard Sharmazanov, according to Armenpress news agency.  

“I have contacted several representatives of observer missions of international structures and they unanimously insist that the mechanism of the electoral code introduced in Armenia is unprecedented and enables to tackle abuses and electoral violations”, Sharmazanov said. According to him, all objective calls from various parties, blocs and observer missions have been rapidly responded both by police and the prosecution and the central electoral commission. “There wasn’t and won’t be a single call which won’t be responded by authorities”, Sharmazanov said.

He also said that nevertheless there were many false reports, aiming at casting a shadow at the election process. “Law enforcement agencies are responding to the reports, however majority of them don’t have facts”, Sharmazanov said. Commenting on the incident regarding the obstruction of Sisak Gabrielyan, a reporter of the Azatutyun Radio, Sharmazanov namely said: “Both the police and the prosecution gave their assessment. The preliminary investigation on the incident has begun. The Republican Party 翺nds any case of obstructing the professional activity of reporters to be condemnable and unacceptable, regardless of who has done it”, Sharmazanov said.

15.45 CET / 17.45 Yerevan

More issues regarding voting secrecy continue to emerge. EVN report carries a storyHayk Marutyan, a citizen observer and a well kown actor who says he noticed several violations of voting secrecy at polling station 9/48 (Pushkin School). "There was a camera behind one of the voting booths and an open door behind the other one. According to Marutyan other observers also noticed that but the president of the polling station did not record it and did not resolve the problem."

15.30 CET / 17.30 Yerevan

Viktor Vodolatski - Deputy Chair of the Russian State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and links with Compatriots, head of the Russian State Duma observer delegation, shared his opinion over Armenia's parliamentary election in a meeting with reporters in Yerevan. Armenpress news agency reported Vodolatski as saying,

"Our group of observers is comprised of 9 people. We have mainly toured in polling stations of Yerevan. 2 of observers will soon arrive from Gyumri and Stepanavan", he said, adding that he managed to visit 10 polling stations, and yesterday he visited Garni and Geghard to see how the election preparation works are going.

"In the morning I passed the entire voting procedure with one of the grandmothers in order to understand where it will be possible to violate something and came to a conclusion that it is impossible to falsify anything", Viktor Vodolatski said.

15.10: CET / 17.10 Yerevan

We are now in the last three hours of polling. Experienced observers of elections in the South Caucasus will tell you that this is the most tricky moment. Everyone is already very tired, and some of the worst shenanigans of the past have been seen in these last hours. 

Beyond that we will have the counting process, another tricky moment, when the votes are compiled into district and nation wide data. And then the moment when the public at large will decide if what they are being told is the truth.

We asked Richard Giragosian, our guest analyst on this blog for his opinion:

Beyond the test of the conduct of today's parliamentary election, a second, related test will come after the results are announced. More specifically, against a backdrop of simmering discontent and a serious erosion of public trust and confidence in the state and its institutions, the post-election situation will be a serious determinant for stability and security. And in addition to the significance of the public reaction, a crucial driver will be the possibility of police over-reaction to any peaceful protests.

15.00 CET / 17.00 Yerevan

It is already clear that one of the things that will be much debated after the elections will be if the cameras installed at great expense in the poling stations were useful or not.

Our guest analyst, Richard Giragosian comments

According to a number of election observers, the obvious placement of the cameras, in plain view in the polling stations, has tended to foster a new environment of calm, as the cameras seem to serve as a pyscholigical discentive to abuse or bad behavior, although the same observers report that the reported incidents of vote buying and cases of voter interference have largely moved outside the polling station.

There are others however who feel that the cameras introduced a fear in the voters that their vote was somehow not secret. Balancing these two views is always going to be a problem, but perhaps better voter awareness ahead of the vote would have helped.

14.45 CET / 16.45 Yerevan

Somebody has decided to seriously protect his vote. Batman turned up at a Yerevan polling station, adding a touch of humour.

14.30 CET / 16.30 Yerevan

We want to talk a little bit now about the candidates contesting the elections. There are just under 1500 candidates - a few withdrew at the last moment. They are all running as part of the lists presented by the nine parties and blocs contesting the election. According to a graph sent to us by Richard Giragosian their average age is 48.

We also have some information provided to us by Araks Martirossian, a journalist with 168.am about the number of women candidates. Araks tells us

There were 14 women (10%) out 131 members in Armenia's National Parliament after the 2012 election. Two of them were elected under majoritarian system and 12 under proportional system.

In the final provisions of the new Electoral Code from 1st January 2022 30% representation for women is fixed. Currently, in the transiotion period, we have 25/75% proportion, this means that in the sixth convocation of the National Assembly of Armenia - the one being voted for in this election, we must have 25% women. It is also to be noted that the combined national lists of political forces include 29.5% female candidates and the regional lists 30.8%.

 

14.15 CET / 16.15 Yerevan

More about lack of ballot secrecy

And in a separate incident:

 

13.35 CET / 15.45 Yerevan

We now have some preliminary data with regards to voting figures at 14.00 Yerevan time issued by the Central Elections Commission

The number of voters until 14,00 was 33.5% This is a bit lower than in 2012 when the voting at the same time was 35.5%, but a bit higher than 2007 when it was 29.7% the total number of voters is 2,587,706.

13.30 CET / 15.30 Yerevan

We are reproducing this report by Zara Manucharian on Hetq.am because it seems to reflect a wider problem. The report was posted one hour ago

There are lines of voters waiting outside the 7/39 and 7/40 polling precinct in Yerevan's Malatya-Sebastia district.

There are also lines inside the polling station, causing many impatient voters to fill out their ballots in plain sight.

Earlier this morning, at 7/39, the machine taking fingerprints broke down several times.

At 7/40, election committee president Roubik Hakobyan, of the Prosperous Armenia Party, twice entered the voting booth to assist voters.

As of 2 p.m., 560 voters cast ballots at 7/39, and 653 at 7/40, out of a total 1,827 eligible voters.

13.00 CET / 15.00 Yerevan

An amusing picture of a polling station on Hetq.am. The figures in the muriel on the wall seem to be very keen to know how the voters will cast their ballots

12.45 CET / 14.45 Yerevan

More about the cameras in the polling station. The EU delegation in Armenia tweeted:

It seems the problem has now been solved and the stream has been re-routed through a European based server.

12.40 CET / 14.40 Yerevan

The European Union expects that the election in Armenia proceeds without issues and in line with democratic principles, Piotr Switalski, head of the EU delegation to Armenia, told reporters in the 9/18 polling station in the S. Spandaryan School, 168.am reports.

"A big team has worked and big work has been carried out, in order for the elections to be good in Armenia, in order for the country's future to be good as well," Switalski said.

12.20 CET / 14.20 Yerevan

A big argument is brewing up regarding the issue of the cameras that were installed in the poling stations to ensure maximum transparency. Many of the live streams are not visible, and there is an argument about who is responsible for the failure. The Armenian CEC said, not us, we had nothing to do with this.

Now the company that designed the system, UCOM has issued a statement. It says that the company does not deal with the number, installation, operation, or technical and other issues of surveillance cameras. The party responsible is EIC Telecom.

"The company implemented huge efforts in organizing the live broadcast of parliamentary elections on April 2, having applied the latest technologies one month prior to the voting day. As a result, the connection works without interruptions. At the moment, 250 Ucom employees carefully follow the smooth provision of connection and are ready to quickly respond to any connection-related issue at a given time. Moreover, the Central Electoral Committee has been watching the live broadcast since early morning with no issues," the company's statement reads.

12.10 CET / 14.10 Yerevan

More on this incident in Kond involving a jounalist from Radio Liberty. According to the station, a journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL) Armenian Service was physically assaulted in an election station in Yerevan's working class Kond district; the incident followed the journalist's witnessing of voters leaving the polling station with cash openly in hand; after attempting to record the incident, some local observers explained that the people were being "paid their salary, not a bribe." Soon thereafter, a group of young people then attacked the journalist, grabbing the phone and in a scuffle; the reporter received a light injury.

11.55 CET / 13.55 Yerevan

Several media outlets are reporting cases where the Precinct Elections Commissons are refusing to register reports of irregularities brought to their attention. A case is reported in precinct 7/49 in south west Yerevan. the complaint is about an issue related to the unused ballots. The bag where the ballots are supposed to be dropped disappeared for a while it seems. Radio Liberty is also reporting an incident in Kond

11.45 CET / 13.45 Yerevan

It is good to remember that there is also a large international effort to monitor these elections spearheaded by the OSCE, ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. They have been busy this morning

 

11.10 CET / 13.10 Yerevan

And here is another twist to this issue of secrecy of the ballot. The website EVN Report this morning reported the following: 

Observers are noting that voters are walking out of precincts with extra ballots. Under this new electoral procedure, each voter receives nine ballots (one for each political party or bloc), they choose the ballot of the party or bloc they want to vote for, then also vote for their preferred candidate on the district electoral list, place it in an envelope to drop in the ballot box. The remaining ballots must be thrown out in bins provided at the precincts.

In a situation where someone has agreed to sell his vote, the buyer would want proof. If you bring out the eight ballots that you have not used from the nine given to you, it means you have used the one left. Thats proof enough, but that makes the vote not secret.

10.45 CET / 12.45 Yerevan

Commonspace.eu political editor has summed up events so far:

"Reports from the polling stations indicate a busy turnout, problems with the live streaming from the polling stations, and somewhat chaotic atmosphere where there was overcrowding. However a more serious issue is emerging. Local observers are saying that in some cases the cameras have been put in a way as to compromise the secrecy of the vote. Daniel Ioanessyan who is leading a domestic monitoring group called "Independent Observer" wrote on his facebook page that a number of polling booths also provided inadequate privacy. He says that around 30% of the polling booths his organisation visited had one or other of these problems. If this is proven to be the case then there is a very serious issue here. The ODIHR Mission which has observers throughout the country should be able to pick up on this if the problem is so widespread as is being suggested".

10.30 CET /12.30 Yerevan

One of our panel of experts, Sos Avetisyan has been to the town of Ararat, which has a voting population of around 12,000, and which sits under the shadow of the famous Mount Ararat. He also reports that voting was brisque:

While Ararat polling booth 13/03 is an anecdotal case to represent the election mood in Armenia, nevertheless, some features should be common in other parts of Armenia too. The first thing that caught my attention was the high number of people that came to cast their vote. The queues were unavoidable, both before one gets the voting bulletins, and right before the booth.

It is usual that electoral activity in the morning is high, but another reason for the unnecessary crowding was the rather complicated voting procedure. People are not used to take 9 party lists and choose one from them. Many had to ask the election organizing teams as to how this is properly done.

At the same time, the fingerprint detection system, as well as live transmission of the elections has visibly restrained the appetite of pro-governmental to "lead the voters".

10.15 CET / 12.15 Yerevan

Our special guest contributor Richard Giragosian has summed up the situation four hours after voting started,

Armenia's Central Electoral Commission reporting that as of 11:00, some 13.32% of registered voters have casted their ballots; although there has been a set of complaints and some reported violations, it is still too early to see or say if this is represents a broader trend of voting irregularities, however; and the later vote count process is an especially important given past precedent of fraud, as well as the suspicious "power outages" of past elections; fingers crossed

10.00 CET / 12.00 Yerevan

13.32% have voted according to the Armenian Central Elections Commission, tweeted Gegham Vardanyan - happy that his twitter account, which was one of the ones suspended yesterday, has now been restored.

 

 

09.45 CET / 11.45 Yerevan

President Serzh Sargsyan has now cast his vote. Apparently there was a technical hitch because the finger print machine (they are being used to prevent voter fraud) could not identify his fingerprints. As one can imagine social media is enjoying the moment!

09.30 CET / 11.30 Yerevan

As this picture on Hetq.am shows, overcrowding is an issue. This is probably mainly due to the fact that the voters are not used to the new, somewhat complicated voting system. We will see how this problem will develop at the peak voting periods, usually just after lunch.

 

09.20 CET / 11.20 Yerevan

We are pleased to have as guest contributor to this blog, Richard Giragosian, respected expert and analyst of issues related to the South Caucasus. Richard has told us a bit more about the twitter incident yesterday:

Less than 12 hours before the start of voting in Armenia's parliamentary elections, several leading independent Armenia Twitter accounts that serve as regular sources of objective news & information were suspiciously "suspended." After a strong reaction of protest to Twitter, the accounts were re-activated in the early morning hours of today; Most notably, the affected Twitter accounts included analyst Stepan Grigorian (@StepanGrig), the CivilNet online news portal (@CivilNetTV) and the Hetq online news agency (@Hetq_Trace), as well as independent journalist Gegham Vardanyan (@Reporteram).

Although "netwar" in cyberspace is no stranger to the South Caucasus, as Azerbaijani and Armenian bloggers have often battled it out in cyberspace, there was a new development. In a flurry of disinformation and trolls by Russian-based and Russian-language Twitter & Facebook accounts that peaked yesterday, the day before the election,a fraudulent and crudely faked "letter" from USAID (see attached) was reposted and circulated purporting to be U.S. instructions to elect the opposition in Armenia. Reacting to this "fake news," the U.S. Embassy in Armenia did a good job to swiftly rebuke and refute this attempt at primitive disinformation, and actually highlighting the flaws and mistakes in the original fake document. 

This is a picture of the fake USAID letter

09.15 CET / 11.15 Yerevan

Civilnet is reporting that up to 11.00 am Yerevan time there were 264 registered reports of violations. It is interesting that the highest amount of violations seems to be related to the secrecy of the ballot. Commonspace.eu earlier identified this as the likely most serious problem to emerge and this is related to the issue of vote-buying. We will watch this issue carefully throughout the day.

This map being compiled by the group Citizen Observer shows locations were violations are being registered. It tells us that problems are country wide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0910 CET / 11.10 Yerevan

There was a moment of tension last night after twitter suspended the account of a number of key activists and journalists involved with the election. The accounts were unavailable for several hours and including the accounts of Civilnet, Hetq and various bloggers. On source told commonsapce.eu that the incident was related to an attempt by a number of trolls from Russia trying to takeover the hashtag #Armvote17 by multiple posting a fake letter supposedly issued by the US aid agency USAID. The accoun ts have now been restored.

Good Morning. it is Sunday, 2 April 2017; 09.00 am CET, 11.00 am in Yerevan

Welcome to the second day of this live blog with coverage of the Armenian Parliamentary elections taking place today. We will follow the process of the poll together with our team of experts in Brussels and Yerevan, and with the help of correspondents from the Armenian web portal and newspaper 168.am. Our Russian language team in Tbilisi will provide a Russian language version of the blog on Commonspace Russian edition.

Polling stations have already opened and first reports say that  voting is going smoothly, although there have been reports of isolated problems with equiment in some polling stations. There are also first reports of overcrowding in some polling stations. There are 2009 polling stations spread over 13 electoral districts.

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16.00 CET / 18.00 Yerevan

WE ARE NOW CLOSING THIS BLOG FOR TODAY. WE WILL RESUME TOMORROW AT 09.00 CET / 11.00 YEREVAN TIME.

15.30 CET / 17.30 Yerevan

It is perhaps by coincidence, or perhaps not, that this election is taking place exacly one year since the short war fought between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. it was on the night of 1-2 April that the fighting started. Hundreds of soldiers on both sides lost their lives. Karabakh has featured prominently in these elections with different parties offering different solutions.Sometime in talking about Armenia the fact that country remains at war with its neighbour is not always appreciated, nor the impact that that has on its society including its politics. It is one more reason why it is important that elections tomorrow are conducted properly so that the Armenian people can express their decision on how they want to be governed.

Armenians start voting tomorrow at 0700 Yerevan time (0500 CET)

15.00 CET / 17.00 Yerevan

The European parliament has a mission in Armenia to monitor tomorrow's election. It is led by the much respected Finnish MP Heidi Hautala. Hautala has already met a number of civil society organisations, and today she and her delegation were also received by President Sargsyan

 

14.45 CET / 16.45 Yerevan

Someone with a sense of humour?

14.30 CET / 16.30 Yerevan

We are continuing with this live blog on the eve of Parliamentary elections in Armenia. Today is a day of silence, and capaigning or soliciting for votes is not allowed. This gives us a chance to reflect on the election campaign, which was a reasonably short one, starting on 5 March and ending yesterday. Commonspace.eu political editor commented: 

"First of all it has been by and large a peacefull campaign. There have been isolated reports of violence, usually against opposition supporters, and although these were only a few, they were a few too many and need to be investigated. But so far the process has been largely peaceful. Second it was very obvious that opposition parties had much less resouces compared to the pro-government parties; third the issue of vote buying has now become so widespread that everyone talks about it openly and the extent to which it exists is now nearly less important than the perception throughout society that it does. This is dangerous because it encourages voter apathy and creates a sense of cynicism. Both can be found at the moment in Armenian society in abundance. This notwithstanding the political parties campaigned actively and openly, and by the end of the election campaign one could sense increasing interest, and a need to hold on to the democratic space, regardless of how constrained it is. Hopefully this will result in a good turn out tomorrow. One can only hope for a proper and fair process on elections day and after at the counting."

13.45 CET / 15.45 Yerevan

Our team at commonspace.eu are under the impression that these elections in Armenia are attracting more international attention than previous elections. Our media editor says that there can be a number of reasons for this.

"The fact that there were these constitutional changes make the elections more important since the outcome will have significant consequences; also the new agreement between Armenia and the EU has stirred some interest in Europe. But probably the main reason is that there is a sense in the international community that these elections will also be significant in terms of the future of the negotiations over Nagorno Karabakh. In any case, more international scrutiny is often better for the democratic process".

Here are some examples

Simone Zoppellaro on Affari Internazionali, the publication of Rome's IAI

And on Brussels Euractiv

 

 

13.15 CET / 15.15 Yerevan

One of our experts in Yerevan, Sos Avetisyan has commented on the fact that these are the first elections being held following changes approved in the 2015 constitutional referendum, "Armenia has moved from semi-presidential to parliamentary type of governance. The switch was introduced in the last years of serving President Serzh Sargsyan's term. In Armenian political culture constitutional changes at the end of presidents' second terms are usual: they were made in 1995 and in 2005 as well, although the changes approved in 2015 were more comprehensive."

12.55 CET / 14.55 Yerevan

But also a happy group of observers pleased to get their accreditation cards

12.50 CET / 14.50 Yerevan

There is also an interesting twist to the issue of the election observers. In an article on 168.am Artur Vardanyan questions the presence of a number of members of the Parliamentary Assemblies who are monitoring the election. read it here This is highly controversial stuff which will raise some concerns in international circles

12.45 CET /14.45 Yerevan

One organisation that is unhappy about the election monitoring process is EPDE - the European Platform for Democratic Elections. They held a press briefing yesterday during which their co-ordinator, Adam Busuleanu, "condemned the refusal of the CEC to invite international non-governmental election monitoring organizations to observe the election day proceedings on 2 April. The authorities rejected the request of the EPDE and other citizen observers groups explaining that a high number of international election observers was already accredited. This explanation contradicts international obligations of Armenia as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. EPDE as well as other international election observation groups were eventually accredited as representatives of domestic observation groups or local media which is conform with the new election law." read more here

12.30 CET / 14.30 Yerevan

Thousands of local observers and hundreds of international observers are expected to monitor tomorrow's poll, but the issue has not been without controversy. Civil society organisations in Armenia have been very critical of some restrictions on local observers that were introduced in the new election code. There were also some problems with the registration of one or two international NGOs. The biggest international monitoring effort - and usually the most credible - is that led by ODIHR - the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE. Their long term mission, led by Ambassador Jan Petersen of Norway, has been in the country for several weeks and has already issued one interim report (read it here). The report, although positive about the level of preparations of the elections, says "Allegations have been raised about widespread vote-buying by most OSCE/ODIHR EOM interlocutors. There is also a prevalent perception that
pressure and intimidation of voters will occur during the campaign."

12.15 CET / 14.15 Yerevan

Another interesting fact is that four seats in the parliament are reserved to national minorities. The four largest national minorities in Armenia are Russians, Yezidis, Kurds and Assyrians - although the numbers are according to the 2011 census very small - ranginging from 35,308 to 2,162

11.50 CET / 13.50 Yerevan

One interesting development arising from changes in the electoral code is that there is now a guaranteed quota for female members of parliament. The quota secures one in four candidates on the national party lists of all political parties/blocs. Since not all MPs will be elected from these lists (there are also district lists) this does not mean that there will be at least 25 women MPs in the parliament, but still the quota is expected to increase their number significantly.

11.30 CET / 13.30 Yerevan

In the meantime, to remind you, the nine political parties/blocs contesting the elections are (in alphabetical order):

Armenian Communist Party

Armenian Revolutionary Federation

Armenian Renaissance Party

Coalition of Armenian National Congress and People's Party of Armenia

Free Democrats

Ohanyan-Raffi-Oscanian alliance

Republican Party of Armenia

Tsarukyan Coalition

YELQ alliance

In order to be represented in Parliament parties must pass a threshold of 5% and blocs and alliances a threshold of 7%

The organisation European Friends of Armenia published a compendium earlier this week with details about the nine parties and blocs and some information about their political orientations. You can read it here.

 

11.15 CET / 13.15 Yerevan

The latest data from the Armenian police shows that there are 2,564,195 registered voters in this election. They are being asked to vote tomorrow to elect 101 members of parliament from over 1500 candidates representing five parties and four blocs under a complicated system which offers the voter a choice between parties, and a limited choice of candidates from the list of their preferred party. This system has come into effect after constitutional changes adopted in a referendum on 6 December 2015. That referendum also confirmed changes in the powers of the parliament. As from 2018 the Parliament will replace the Presidency as the supreme authority, and the prime minister chosen by the parliament will be the effective leader of the country.

11.05 CET / 13.05 Yerevan

The election campaign ended yesterday. Throughout the past week the nine political parties and blocs contesting the elections organised their last rallies or events, appealing for the voters trust. (read more here)

By and large it has been a peaceful campaign, although some incidents of violence were reported.

It has been a lively campaign, with its moments of tension, and moments of fun. We will be looking back at how it played out throughout the day.

It is Saturday, 1 April, 11.00 am in Brussels and 1.00 p.m. in Yerevan, Armenia

Welcome to this live blog.

We will be covering events around the Armenian Parliamentary Elections taking place tomorrow Sunday. Over the next three days we will be following and analysing developments with the help of our team of experts in Brussels and Yerevan, and with input from the dynamic team of correspondents of the Armenian newspaper and web portal 168.am This blog is available in both English and Russian thanks to our Russian language team in Tbilisi

 

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