Guest Post: Armenia 2013
I did not plan to cover the Armenian elections, but I am incredibly fortunate that one this blog’s readers, Chris Terry, agreed to do a guest post on the election. Chris works as a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society in the United Kingdom and was in Armenia as an election observer for the OSCE. He offers fascinating insights into the country and this election. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
Armenia held a presidential election on February 18, 2013. I served as a Short Term Observer (STO) for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for the election meaning that I was in Armenia from the 14th until the 21st of February, during which period I observed the elections, including voting, counting and tabulation of votes on Election Day. In addition to the usual commentary you’ve come to expect from this blog I’ll also include my own reflections on the fairness of the election.
Armenia is a presidential republic. The President is elected for a five-year term renewable once in a two round system. Parliament is elected by a MMP system with 41 constituencies and 90 PR seats. Armenia has never had a peaceful exchange of power.
Armenia appears on some of the oldest maps in the world, and Armenians trace their history back more than 4,000 years with the first country called ‘Armenia’ being formed in 190 BC. Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion (in 301 AD), and the Armenian state church, the Armenian Apostolic Church is very powerful. 93% of Armenians belong to the Church, which a very ritualistic, Ancient feeling sort of Christianity.
Armenians are also fiercely proud of their language which has its own unique alphabet of 38 letters. Armenian is an Indo-European language but sits on its own unique branch. Of the other Indo-European languages it shares the most in common with Greek.
Armenia has shifted borders, and at times completely disappeared from maps, during its history. At times it has been a Great Power, at its greatest extent the Kingdom of Armenia ruled from Damascus and the Mediterranean all the way to the Caspian Sea. Large portions of Turkey have also traditionally been in Armenia. The national symbol of the country is Mount Ararat, which is, of course, located in eastern Turkey, though on a clear day the mountain can be seen towering above the horizon from almost any point in modern day Armenia. Armenia itself has also been surrounded by Great Powers itself. To its south lies Iran, and Armenia has been part of various Persian Empires. To its west lies Turkey, and to its north lies Russia. Armenia has the odd feel of a country at a crossroads between Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia all at once.
Recent Armenian history has been tragic. Armenian sovereignty essentially ended in 1375. The country then shifted between Ottoman, Persian and Russian control. The Apostolic Church took on a role not only as a religious organisation but as a unifying authority for all Armenians, an organisation essentially heading a national liberation movement. Modern day Armenia essentially corresponds to a province of the Russian Empire known as the ‘Province of Yerevan’ (the country’s modern capital).
Ottoman Armenians were subject to what Armenians and many scholars view as genocide by the Young Turk government of Turkey from 1915 until 1923. Turkey virulently denies that the events were genocide, however between 600,000 and 1,800,000 Armenians died and 20 countries recognize it as such. The genocide also led to the movement of very large movements of Armenians out of the region, forming the Armenian diaspora. The genocide still looms large in the Armenian national conscious and Armenians often call it simply, the Great Crime.
Today there are more Armenians outside the country (5 to 7 million) than in it (approximately 3 million). The diaspora is tight knit and has a tendency to strongly lobby governments over recognition of the genocide and aid for Armenia. Armenia is also largely dependent on money from the diaspora. Armenian diaspora members you may be familiar with include the metal band System of a Down, the former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, the Kardashian family and Cher. California (home to a large number of members of the diaspora) has also had an Armenian-American Governor, George Deukmejian (R, 1983-1991).
After the collapse of the Russian Empire during the Russian Civil War, Armenia was briefly able to become independent in 1918. Almost immediately Armenia began a war with Azerbaijan over the disputed areas of Kazakh-Shamshadin, Zanghezur, Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh. These areas all had a largely mixed population, but the truth is that both groups had lived side by side each other for centuries. The Caucasus was an ethnic patchwork of Azeris, Armenians, Georgians, Russians, Persians, Turks, and Caucasian Albanians (unrelated to the country in the Balkans) amongst others. Armenian and Azeri academics have often traded attempts to undermine each other’s nations, with Azeris, for instance, attempting to classify prominent medieval Armenians as Caucausian Albanians instead. Census figures are also used in this battle, but are flawed for the reason that in this period large numbers of Azeris were nomadic, going from highland to lowland and back again between summer and winter. Therefore many regions would have an Azeri majority at some points of the year and an Armenian one at another. Relations with Azerbaijan are also complicated by the fact that Azeris are closely related to Turks, and Azeri is a Turkic language. Armenians therefore have a tendency to label Azeris as Turks, with all the implications with regard to the Genocide that that implies. Yet Azeris and Armenians are more similar than they would like to admit and during the Soviet period lived side by side. The current Armenian President, Serzh Sarsyan (note: there are many Sargsyan’s in Armenia, the name is like ‘Smith’ in Anglo-Saxon countries, the current PM many other political figures share this name but are unrelated) has spoken in interviews with international journalists of the many Azeri friends he had as a child growing up in Nagorno-Karabakh, whilst still insisting that Armenians and Azeris could not live in one state.
Armenia and Azerbaijan were both incorporated within the USSR on its formation. The Soviet response to the ethnic patchwork of the Caucasus was to create a series of bizarre internal borders. A Soviet Republic of Armenia was created and so was a Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. Within Azerbaijan they created the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, a self-governing region where Armenians were the majority. Nagorno-Karabakh was an enclave of Azerbaijan. They also created the exclave of Nakhichevan which lies between Armenia, Turkey and Iran.
During the Gorbachev era Karabakh politicians and activists started agitating for Karabakh to be transferred from Azerbaijani sovereignty to Armenian sovereignty. A series of tit for tat for pogroms across the region also began. Armenian nationalism was particularly strong and Armenia became the first country to secede from the Soviet Union on the 21st of September 1991, three months before the USSR’s end after an independence referendum.
As in 1918, war almost immediately broke out with Azerbaijan. Originally this took the form of a guerrilla conflict by Armenians in Karabakh being supported by the Armenian state, but Armenia eventually entered the war directly. Due to the position of Nagorno-Karabakh as an enclave Armenia had to invade Azerbaijan proper. The war was complicated by internal political instability within Azerbaijan. The events leading up to the installation of the current President of Azerbaijan, Heidar Aliev, were particularly problematic for the Azeris, essentially amounting to a military coup many military units simply vacated Karabakh in preference for Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. Towards the end of the war Armenian soldiers were able to simple walk into empty Azeri villages. Both sides committed atrocities in the conflict. The conflict was eventually left essentially frozen, with a ceasefire called at what the Armenians considered to be defensible borders for Karabakh. The two sides rejected a plan for Russian peacekeepers and maintain an uneasy border. Exchanges of gunfire are still common across the border. Last year nine soldiers, five Azeri and four Armenian, were killed in exchanges across the border. As the war is only on ceasefire and no treaty has been signed it is technically still ongoing.
Karabakh is a self-declared republic, but it is unrecognized, even by Armenia. In reality, Karabakh is under occupation by the Armenians, and Armenia is occupying 14% of the territory of Azerbaijan. Armenia also occupies a very large portion of Azerbaijan outside Karabakh. Indeed, in terms of area more of the occupied region came from Azerbaijan proper than from Karabakh. While officially a self-governing republic in reality Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied territories are governed as an Armenian province.
As a result of the war, Armenia finds itself under economic blockade from two neighbours, Azerbaijan and its closest ally, Turkey. For a small (the smallest in the region) landlocked country like Armenia this is economically disastrous. Armenia was one of the wealthiest of the Soviet Republics, and had a high standard of living by Communist standards. It is now the poorest country in the region; around 30% of Armenians live below the poverty line. Armenia has the potential to be quite wealthy. As it exists at the crossroads between Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East Armenia could be an important component of a trade route. However, when Azerbaijan struck oil in the Caspian Sea, for instance, they decided to route it through Georgia. Armenia has therefore had to promote good relations with its most powerful direct neighbour, Iran, and regional superpower Russia in order to have any meaningful trading partners.
Politically, Armenia’s first President was Levon Ter-Pertrossian. A nationalist activist and president of the Pan-Armenian National Movement, Ter-Petrossian had an uneasy Presidency. His re-election in 1996 was marred by widespread fraud, which harmed his credibility. Ter-Pertrossian was forced to resign from the Presidency due to a combination of this, the poor economic situation and his advocacy of an unpopular peace settlement with Azerbaijan. He was replaced by his Prime Minister, Robert Kocharian in what essentially amounted to a palace coup by his own ministers.
Kocharian was a former President of Nagorno-Karabakh, and his election marked the ascendance of what was known as the ‘Karabakh party’ an informal group of politicians who had gained prominence in the war. In 1999 a group of armed men entered the Armenian parliament and killed 8 men. Amongst the dead was Vazgen Sargsyan, the Prime Minister, Karen Demirchyan, the speaker of parliament, and a former First Secretary of Soviet Armenia, and several other MPs. The events rocked Armenia. It was later revealed that Kocharian and Aliev were close to a deal on Nagorno-Karabakh at the time and this was essentially scuppered. The perpetrators of the attack are unclear. A popular theory is that Russia hoped to stop the deal, but as the talks were being conducted in secret at the highest level it is unclear how they would know.
Kocharian stepped down in 2008, in line with term limits. He was replaced by his PM, Serzh Sargsyan. Sargsyan’s election was accompanied by massive opposition protests. The opposition alleged fraud and as many as 100,000 Armenians took to the streets. Hundreds were injured and eight were killed.
In 2011 there were more large scale protests in Armenia. These protests lasted for 10 months and demanded a mix of democratic and socioeconomic reform.
In these elections Sargsyan made his bid for a second term of power.
Armenia’s parliament has six political parties. They are:
The Republican Party of Armenia (RPA). Seats in parliament: 69. The RPA is often described as a ‘national-conservative’ party, but as in similar countries such ideological boxes do not really apply. It was described by The Economist as “a typical post-Soviet “party of power” mainly comprising senior government officials, civil servants, and wealthy business people dependent on government connections”. The RPA is the party of both Sargsyan and Kocharian. The Republican Party had originally been a small ally of Ter-Pertrossian’s Pan-Armenian National Movement which grew in strength due to the involvement of many of its members in the Karabakh war, often directly on the front line as volunteer troops. Entire RPA detachments were formed during the war.
Prosperous Armenia (PA). Seats in parliament: 37. It was founded and is led by Gagik Tsarukian, a local oligarch, and PA is essentially his personal vehicle. PA is a conservative and pro-business party. PA has a mixed relationship with the RPA. Before the parliament elections last year the PA and RPA worked in coalition but PA has since left the governing coalition. However they worked closely together in the local elections late last year and many observers see signs of a rapprochement between the two parties. PA did not run or support any Presidential candidate in this election, saying that it did not expect a clean election.
Armenian National Congress (ANC). Seats in parliament: 7. It is the successor of the Pan-Armenian National Congress and is led by former President Levon Ter-Pertrossian. The ANC is not technically a party, but rather a coalition of multiple parties. Since his ousting Ter-Pertrossian has tried to make a name for himself as a democratic opponent of those who ousted him and the ANC is a prominent opposition voice. The ANC’s internal parties are known for often squabbling amongst themselves, however. Ter-Pertrossian ran in the 2008 election winning 21.5% of the vote, coming second. The opposition protests around the election were primarily ANC led and other opposition parties were critical of them. The ANC did not run a candidate in this election, with Ter-Pertrossian claiming to be too old. However, one of the constituent parties of the ANC, the Freedom Party, nominated a candidate, Hrant Bagratyan, who had served as a PM of Ter-Pertrossian between 1993 and 1996.
Rule of Law. Seats in parliament: 6. Usually seen as a centrist party, Rule of Law is the junior coalition partner of the RPA. Despite this it has a sometimes fractious relationship with the RPA. For instance its leader, Artur Baghdasaryan claimed ‘serious ballot stuffing’ during the 2005 constitutional referendum. Rule of Law did not run or support a Presidential candidate in the election, even though Baghdasaryan had come third with a respectable 17.7% in the 2008 Presidential election.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), also often known by its Armenian name, Dashnakhsutyun. Seats in parliament: 5. The ARF is Armenia’s oldest party and the only one to pre-date independence from the Soviet Union. The ARF was founded in 1890 in Tbilisi, now in Georgia. It is a party that combines socialism and nationalism. The ARF is the best organised of the Armenian parties apart from the RPA, and possibly the only one apart from the RPA with deep links into Armenian society. The ARF is probably the party which most corresponds to Western notions of what a party should be with a clear ideology. However it is a polarizing party, which inspires passionate activists but equally passionate detractors. However the ARF has not shown itself beyond working with the government at times. The ARF receives a lot of financial support from the Armenian diaspora and maintains organisations wherever the diaspora is in large numbers. In some countries it runs in elections. Indeed in Lebanon it currently has two MPs and two ministers. The ARF’s candidate, Vahan Hovhannisyan got 6.2% of the vote in 2008. In true ARF style he then resigned his position as Vice-President of the National Assembly in objection to the handling of the election but his party still refused to participate in the ANC-led protests with the ARF accusing Ter-Pertrossian of an attempted coup.
The Heritage Party. Seats in parliament: 5. Heritage is the party of Armenia’s first foreign minister, Raffi Hovannisian. The US-born Hovannisian had poor relations with Ter-Pertrossian and resigned from the government. Heritage’s slogan is ‘national by roots, liberal by economic principle’ (in the European sense of ‘economically liberal’). Heritage is a free market and pro-democracy orientated party and possibly the most strongly opposed to the government. Hovannisian is also known for some irredentist sentiments regarding lost Armenian territories in both Azerbaijan and Turkey. In 2008 Heritage did not run a candidate, preferring to support Ter-Pertrossian, though Hovannisian was against this decision. The ANC and Heritage have strained relations, possibly reflecting historical problems between their leaders. Heritage played a notable role in the 2011 protests, with Hovannisian going on hunger strike at one point. His party has a noticeably youthful activist base. He stood in the election, though officially as an independent not as a Heritage candidate, and most polls had him in second place.
After nominations and one withdrawal, seven candidates stood for election:
Serzh Sargsyan was the incumbent candidate, standing for the Republican Party of Armenia. Said to be an affable fellow, Sargsyan has been referred to as a ‘natural leader’. A Karabakhi by origin, Sargsyan led the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Self-Defence Forces Committee and organised several battles in the war and is considered a founder of Armenia’s military. He was a close ally of the prior President, Robert Kocharian, and his handpicked successor. The two had rose in power in tandem together with Sargsyan serving as Kocharian’s defence minister and then PM before his election in 2008. Polls, although highly untrustworthy, had Sargsyan on between 60 and 70% of the vote.
Raffi Hovannisian, standing as an independent but leader of the Heritage Party. Born in the US to two members of the diaspora, Hovannisian was a lawyer by training who moved to Armenia in the wake of the devastating 1988 earthquake which killed up to 50,000 people. Hovannisian served as the first foreign minister of Armenia. Hovannisian is said to be extremely charismatic. Members of my STO team in Armenia attended a rally of Hovannisian supporters on the 16th of Feb, the last day of campaigning. They described the rally as very American-esque with Hovannisian effectively working the crowd. Polls had Hovannisian broadly between 10 and 30% of the vote, the only candidate besides Sargsyan in double figures.
Hrant Bagratyan, standing for the Freedom Party, a component party of the ANC. Bagratyan was PM of Armenia from 1993 and 1996. My interpreter told me at one point that Bagratyan came across as very boring on the campaign trail, often quoting long lists of statistics. Polls generally had Bagratyan around the 5% mark.
Paruyr Hayrikyan. The leader of a minor party, Hayrikyan gained substantial attention for the election when he was shot in the chest. Hayrikyan’s candidacy was very pro-Western and he accused the Russians of being behind the attack (though the true perpetrators are unknown). Hayrikyan could have postponed the election by two weeks but eventually decided not to (to the relief of electoral observers with pre-booked flights). Polls generally had Hayrikyan around the 5% mark.
Andrias Ghukasyan. A radio host and political activist in Yerevan, Ghukasyan spent the entire election campaign on hunger strike, protesting outside parliament with a large banner saying ‘stop fake elections’. Ghukasyan was highly critical of electoral observers and suggested that all they did was legitimize Armenian elections. This was probably related to the OSCE’s report on the 2008 elections which found the elections to be free and fair, despite the following protests.
Vardan Sedrakyan. An academic specializing in epic poetry. Sedrakyan campaigned on a nationalist platform.
Arman Melikyan. The head of a NGO working on immigration and refugees, Melikyan eventually stated that he had spoilt his own ballot in protest.
The last three candidates had negligible support in public opinion polls.
The presidential campaign was notable primarily in terms of its absence. Arriving in Armenia on the 14th of February it was hard to believe there would be an election four days later. The streets were empty of activists, political posters or any signs or campaigning. What campaign there was focused primarily on personality. The issues such as they were, were the state of democracy in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh (an issue on which everyone in Armenia agrees, and so which was primarily a contest of ‘who can agree hardest’) and other foreign and security issues. The economy, probably the biggest real issue in a country that is the poorest in the region and which is being blockaded from two sides.
Media in Armenia is generally considered as biased towards the ruling elite, with the President’s brother-in-law in charge of its regulation. Pro-opposition TV stations have been shut down. However, TV did not black out coverage of the opposition, though I am unaware of what the tone was in that coverage, though the OSCE stated that the public and most popular television channel, H1, showed bias against opposition parties and candidates.
Concerns were also raised about the ruling party’s abuse of administrative resources. In some areas public buildings were used as campaign offices, for instance.
Final results from Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission:
Serzh Sargsyan (Republican Party of Armenia) 58.64%
Raffi Hovannisian (Heritage) 36.75%
Hrant Bagrantyan (Freedom Party) 2.15%
Paruyr Hayrikyan (Union for National Self-Determination) 1.23%
Andrias Ghukasyan (Independent) 0.57%
Vadran Sedrakyan (Independent) 0.42%
Arman Melikyan (Independent) 0.24%
Additionally 50,988 invalid votes (3.36%) were cast. It is difficult to tell how many of these are protest votes and how many are problems with the ballot. Armenian electoral law requires a very precise ‘V’ sign to be made to vote for a candidate. While this sign is marked quite clearly on the ballot paper and is in the polling booth in such a way that while filling out your ballot you look directly at it, this does still mean it is plausible many voters could have used other signs. However it is worth noting that this figure is an increase of more than 10,000 invalid votes from the prior Presidential election despite a significant fall in turnout.
Turnout was 60.05%, significantly down from 72.14% in 2008. There were noticeable regional disparities in turnout with turnout in Yerevan (the capital) at 53.99%, and turnout in Ararat Province at 73.92%.
For the purposes of the election results are collated by the 41 parliamentary constituencies. A man of results by constituency can be seen below, having been shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia:
Hovannisian’s result is a surprisingly good performance, nearly 40% of the vote. Compared to opinion polls Sargsyan has done worse than expected and so have Bagratyan and Hayrikyan. That suggests that Hovannisian pulled votes from both Sargsyan and from his fellow opposition candidates. As his candidacy gained steam, the opposition seem to have informally united around Hovannisian as the candidate with the best chance of beating Sargsyan.
Hovannisian won seven constituencies in all. The rest were all won by Sargsyan. The three constituencies in the northeast of the country all cover Shirak province. Shirak is home to Armenia’s second largest city, Gyumri. I had a friend stationed in Gyumri who reported that in the polling station he was in during counting the polling station staff were clearly nervous as the results came in and it became increasingly clear Hovannisian was ahead. The chairman of the polling station even rang her husband, who was working at a different polling station to check whether this was happening elsewhere. My friend stated that the polling station staff questioned whether this would mean that the financial tap to Gyumri would be cut off completely.
Hovannissian also did well in Yerevan, winning 3 of its 12 constituencies and allowing Sargsyan a majority of the vote in only one district. One of the three constituencies was not previously known to the OSCE as an opposition stronghold, however another organisation had decided to place international observers in all of its polling stations throughout the entire day, from opening of the polling station until counting. The seventh constituency is that covering Vanadzor, Armenia’s third largest city.
The pattern that emerges therefore is that Hovannisian did best in urban areas. Several factors may explain this. Firstly urban districts tend to be home to younger, better educated, wealthier populaces. Secondly, Hovannisian’s activist base was much smaller than Sargsyan’s but found it much easier to campaign in the cities where more voters can be reached. Thirdly, life is easier on electoral observers in cities because there are shorter distances between polling stations and therefore less time to travel. Therefore more polling stations can be monitored. Yerevan polling stations also had to deal with the international press.
Fairness of the Election
I was stationed in Constituency 9 in Yerevan. Constituency 9 covers Kentron, the centre of the city, meaning that, purely through the luck of the draw (4 STOs were stationed in Kentron, out of 250 and you have no choice where you are stationed) I found that the hotel I was staying in was in my district and within a ten minute drive of all my polling stations. Throughout the day I did not witness any proof of fraud. However I did see something which I thought was questionable, which I will now recount.
In my area there were two polling stations in one building very close together. As we approached these polling stations there were very large crowds outside. We entered and observed the voting. As we observed the voting we noticed a suspicious looking man milling around the entrance. We approached him and asked what he was doing. He responded that he was waiting to vote. However he did not seem to be in line but instead chatting with voters as they came in. He had no ID or accreditation (which party and non-party observers must have). When we made the move into the second polling district of the polling station we spoke to the proxy in that station of Hovannisian. He seemed very pleased to see us as we entered.
Throughout the day we had spoken to polling station staff, candidate proxies and observers. However getting information had proven difficult. Our feeling was that people were afraid of speaking up in front of us. Hovannisian’s proxy in this station, however, had very good English. He told us that the large crowds outside were due to busing. Large crowds all turned up at once because the Republican Party was busing around voters to polling stations where they knew there was a problem with the ink (polling station staff had to stamp each voter’s internal passport. The ink was supposed to disappear after 12 hours, but there were reports that in some cases it could be rubbed off with a wet napkin). Whilst he told us this we noted that it had indeed become very quiet in contrast to the incredible clamour that had preceded (and had been very unusual throughout the day). We also noted that the same suspicious man from earlier was still there. We had been at this polling station for more than an hour. It seemed unlikely he was waiting to vote as even in the busiest circumstances I don’t thing I saw anyone waiting to vote for more than 5 minutes!
Conversations with other teams were similar. Many saw circumstantial evidence which seemed to imply busing. One person I spoke to reported that people had run away as they saw them approaching one polling station with their interpreter telling them that someone had yelled a warning that observers were coming. One team’s driver spotted carousel voting (a particular type of voter fraud where someone stands outside a polling station with marked ballots, they give a marked ballot to a voter, who hides it under their shirt. The voter then walks in, takes a ballot, votes using the marked ballot, and then brings out the unmarked ballot. The voter then gives the unmarked ballot to the person they took it from, who then marks it for future use. The voter is then given money for this). One team I spoke with said that a voter they had spoken to had had problems voting due to an administrative problem at one of their polling stations, but at this point she revealed that she was a civil servant and had been told that she would be fired if she could not produce proof she had voted (through the ink mark in her internal passport).
The OSCE preliminary report on the election states that “The 18 February presidential election was generally well-administered and was characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms. Contestants were able to campaign freely. Media fulfilled their legal obligation to provide balanced coverage, and all contestants made use of their free airtime. At the same time, a lack of impartiality of the public administration, misuse of administrative resources, and cases of pressure on voters were of concern. While election day was calm and orderly, it was marked by undue interference in the process, mainly by proxies representing the incumbent, and some serious violations were observed.” In a sense, I think this is fair. The OSCE cannot be seen to be criticizing elections like these without proof, reports like mine, are, ultimately circumstantial. Certainly my report would not hold up in a court of law!
Yet this perhaps illustrates a problem with electoral observation. At a certain point it becomes very difficult to detect fraud. Ballot box stuffing and the like has become passé. I agree with the OSCE that the election was well-administered. The polling station staff I saw were exemplary. If there was fraud, that was not where it was, rather it was outside the polling station in many cases. There is an argument that electoral observation simply makes fraud more sophisticated. To some extent the accusation that observation legitimizes flawed elections may have some worth. The OSCE’s press conference on the elections was actually hijacked by some Armenian activists who briefly took the stage to scream for the OSCE to ‘stop legitimizing fraudulent elections in Armenia’.
Defenders of the official result may point to opinion polling and exit polling, with which the result is broadly in line. However the exit poll is attributed to ‘Gallup’ but in fact was carried out by a Swiss company called Gallup International Association, which is involved in a legal dispute with the better known Gallup, inc. Opposition politicians have labelled GIA ‘fake Gallup’.
I must also admit concerns about the official turnout figure. While I was in a low turnout area, I find it hard to believe that Yerevan reached the official figure of 53.99% turnout based on what I saw on the day which was exceedingly quiet. The whole election had been quiet. My entire impression of Armenians and the electoral process was that they really did not care about the election at all. This is not even considering the problems of the voting list. In the run up to the election the opposition were claiming that up to 700,000 voters on the voter list were out of the country. It is true that many Armenians have left the country since independence in the search for work. Many have gone to Russia, for instance. While 700,000 seems an overestimate, my feeling based on what the OSCE said was there was some truth behind this. To my mind this implies that turnout was artificially raised.
That said, I do not think that the entire result is fraudulent. Rather there has been a biasing of the result rather than complete falsification in my view. Most votes counted are probably perfectly valid. I certainly do not believe that Hovannisian has ‘won’ the election which is what the opposition are claiming.
At the time of writing Hovannisian has spent two days on the trot protesting in Freedom Square in central Yerevan. I saw some of the protests myself as my hotel was literally around the corner. Hovannisian’s protests, a couple of thousand strong, do not compare to Ter-Pertrossian’s approx. 100,000 protesters in 2008 however. On the 21st of February, Hovannisian and Sargsyan met to discuss the situation. Hovannisian has stated he will disclose the details of the meeting on the 22nd of February saying that “We are committed to our victory and the Armenian people will have their victory tomorrow in Liberty Square at 5 pm.”
Assuming the result stands, which I think is more likely than not right now, the next Armenian elections will be the parliamentary elections in 2015.