Voting Incidents Mar Armenian Election

Presidential ballot overshadowed by polling-booth violence and other allegations of foul play.

Voting Incidents Mar Armenian Election

Presidential ballot overshadowed by polling-booth violence and other allegations of foul play.

Saturday, 23 February, 2008
Armenia’s leading politicians all voted at the same polling station, No. 9/11, in Yerevan on February 19 but had different verdicts on the honesty of the election.

Prime minister and official candidate Serzh Sarkisian - later declared the winner in the first round of voting - said, “It’s not important how many rounds there will be, the main thing is that the elections go normally and there is strong trust in the results of the elections.”

His main opponent former president Levon Ter-Petrosian said that he had heard “the elections are going very badly, there are a lot of definite [evidence] of violations.”

Ter-Petrosian’s campaign team said that a high number of incidents called the whole election into question. “There are no elections in Armenia at this moment, there was just an attempt to seize power,” said the former president’s press secretary Arman Musinian.

Eduard Sharmazanov, press secretary of Serzh Sarkisian, went round various polling stations, saying that the elections were on the whole calm and fair and met European standards - a verdict that later received qualified support from international monitors.

However, a series of incidents recorded by IWPR reporters suggested that there were at the least several violations of electoral rules.

In polling station 13/16 in the Erebuni suburb of Yerevan, journalist Lusine Barseghian who works for the opposition newspaper Haikakan Zhamanak was beaten up. Barseghian said that she had asked the head of the electoral commission there why they were not recording alleged violations of procedure - and received a rude rebuff when several men tried to eject her from the station.

“Armen Martirosian [a member of parliament from the opposition Heritage Party] saw that I was being thrown out, intervened and called the police,” she said.

Barseghian said that when the local police chief arrived he confiscated her camera and Dictaphone, “When I tried to take them back, they hit me. They began to beat me and Armen Martirosian and tried to remove us from the polling station.” She said that another member of parliament Zaruhi Postanjian arrived and they also tried to confiscate her camera.

In the town of Razdan, a quarrel broke out between the head of the electoral commission in polling station 25/12 Harutiun Khachatrian and a representative of opposition candidate Ter-Petrosian, Jivan Vartanian.

“People do not trust promises and Serzh Sarkisian is a man not of promises but of deeds,” said Khachatrian.

Khachatrian told IWPR that officially unemployment in his region was eight per cent although in actual fact it was higher. Overhearing this, Vartanian intervened and said that unemployment had overwhelmed the whole district and was more than 60 per cent. Khachatrian angrily retorted, “You should speak less! You are selling your motherland!”

Amongst examples of malpractice, IWPR correspondents saw several instances of two voters entering the same booth and someone who was not on the electoral list casting a ballot, but none of these incidents was recorded by electoral officials.

Larisa Tadevosian, representative of Ter-Petrosian in the town of Abovian, was abducted from polling station 28/07.

“They took me to some waste ground outside the town and someone hit me in the face and said, ‘You shouldn’t get in the way and you should keep silent. If you carry on, you’ll have nowhere to hide. And tell your people that they should expect the same thing.’ They said terrible things to me and insulted me,” she said.

She was abandoned with a beaten face and collected by her party colleagues. She said that she recognised her assailant as the bodyguard of a prominent oligarch.

Anoush Afrikian, head of the polling station, did not deny that Tadevosian had been abducted but said that it had been done by her “friends”.

Two other opposition supporters, Erjanik Abgarian and Gurgen Eghiazarian, said they had also been beaten up and had complained to the police. Eghiazarian said that he later saw on television he was being sought by the police as a “hooligan”.

Three other opposition representatives, all women, Greta Khachatrian, Maro Minasian and Anaid Tamarian, said they were all forcibly ejected from polling station 28/16 by a group of young me, who, they said, wanted to stuff the ballot boxes.

“Several big lads came in, took hold of us and dragged us out,” said Khachatrian. “And then eight men came in with packets of ballot papers which they did not try to hide.”

Officials in the local electoral commission said they could not confirm the incident.

Reporters Anahid Gogorian, Rima Garibian, Bella Ksalova and Dmitry Avaliani are all in Armenia covering the election as part of IWPR’s EU-funded Cross Caucasus Journalism Network.

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