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Victory of president Robert Kotcharian's party in Armenia in general elections tarnished with fraud

Victory of president Robert Kotcharian's party in Armenia in general elections tarnished with fraud

25/05/2003 - Results

The Republican Party led by Prime Minister Andranik Marguarian who supports the President of the Republic Robert Kotcharian (re-elected as head of State on 5th March after a presidential election contested by the opposition), emerged the victor of the general elections that took place on 25th May.

According to the results, that are still provisional, the movement won 22.5% of the vote, ahead of the main opposition movement, the Justice Block, led by the unfortunate candidate in the presidential election, Stepan Demirtchian (Popular Party), that won 13% of the vote. At the end of these elections President Kotcharian lost his majority in Parliament; he would however form an alliance with the small centrist movements, Dashnaktsutun and Orinats Erkir (the Country of Law), as he mentioned before the elections.

Four other parties will also be represented in Parliament. These are Orinats Erkir, that won 11.8% of the vote, the pro-government movement Dashnaktsutun, 10.9% of the vote, the National Unity Party led by Artaches Guegamian, a candidate during the last presidential election, 8.4% and the United Workers Party who with 5.5% of the vote just managed to rise above the indispensable 5% mark to win MP's.

Seventeen political movements and four union lists enrolled for the general elections vying for 131 seats, 75 won according to proportional vote nationally and 56 by a majority vote in one round locally. The participation rate was low, 52%, bearing witness to the lack of faith the population has in the government's ability to organise truly democratic elections. Since the last presidential election (19th February-5th March 2003) the opposition movements have not stopped contesting the election of Robert Kotcharian as head of the country. They even went as far as threatening to boycott the general elections. "It would be naive to think that this government could succeed without fraud and organise equitable elections. It is the same government with the same methods and they will do anything to have an obedient Parliament", declared Stepan Demirtchian just a few days before the general elections.

On 25th May the Armenians also voted in a referendum on a constitutional reform, contested by the opposition movements, that aimed to even out Parliamentary powers in the face of presidential powers (authorising for example MP's to put their own candidature forward for Prime Minister) and to accept dual nationality. The authorities hoped that this last point would encourage Armenians living abroad to invest in their native country. The results of the referendum have still not been announced.

Once again the general elections were tarnished by a number of frauds that were noticed by international observers present during the election. "The Armenian elections are well below the international norms", declared Robert L. Barry, emissary of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Armenia, who denounced "the occasions when results were tampered with, ballots were jammed, voting papers were stolen and international observers were intimidated". The elections were also marred by a shoot out that resulted in one death near a polling station in Chaumian, in the south of the country. A main opposition party representative, the Justice Block was injured as well as the head of the local electoral commission. The police did however say that it was not sure the incident was linked to the general elections.

"Everything must be done to prevent any infringements", declared President Robert Kotcharian the day before the election, adding "of course we cannot check everything but we are doing what we can". The country equipped itself with 400 transparent ballot boxes to protect itself from any fraud. "These boxes will be sealed and will remain in the polling station until the end of the election", said Elaine Conkievich, head of the OSCE mission. This measure did not have the expected effect since fraud was observed in 30% of the polling stations. The vote by "dead souls", people that had already passed away, was also indicated. Finally not all the electoral lists had been updated, a fact that might have enabled some unscrupulous people to allow expatriates to vote. According to the International Migration Office, nearly one third of the Armenian population lives abroad, many of them having left the country to escape poverty and the war against Azerbaijan. The majority of these expatriates can vote in the Armenian embassies in the countries where they live but very few use this opportunity. Hence during the last presidential election only a few hundred of them went to vote in Moscow.

These general elections failed in their main task and that was to establish the legitimacy of President Robert Kotcharian's authority after his election on 5th March, the validity of which is still widely contested by the opposition movements. "Armenia's image will be seriously tarnished and its domestic political stability weakened if these elections are marred by serious irregularities," said the US ambassador in Armenia, John Ordway just a few days before the election. The USA, where there are six million people of Armenian origin, followed these general elections closely just as it was in the European Union. The construction of an oil duct that is mostly being financed by Washington, is about to turn Armenia into a strategic area for the transport of oil from the Caspian Sea to the world markets.

The opposition movements are therefore strengthening their positions in Parliament. Draft laws will probably be the subject of heated discussion, without however any of the parties being legally able to prevent President Kotcharian from applying his political programme.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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