Mar 142013
 March 14, 2013  Add comments
Reference id  aka Wikileaks id #243342  ?
Subject Armenia Misses Another Opportunity To Improve Elections
Origin Embassy Yerevan (Armenia)
Cable time Wed, 13 Jan 2010 07:11 UTC
Classification CONFIDENTIAL

DE RUEHYE #0019/01 0130711
R 130711Z JAN 10


E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/12/2020
TAGS: PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], PHUM [Human Rights], KDEM [Democratization], KJUS [Administration of Justice], AM [Armenia]

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Classified By: CDA Joseph Pennington, for reasons 1.4 (b,d).


¶1. (C) In the January 10 by-election, Embassy observers noted
widespread intimidation, low-scale violence, and cases where
individuals outside the electoral commissions directed the
vote process. Although we did not directly observe ballot
stuffing, Embassy personnel were present at a polling station
where the precinct chair appeared to be openly falsifying the
vote. There were numerous instances of journalists, local
observers, and proxies being evicted from polling places or
being obstructed from monitoring the vote. The CEC
chairperson acknowledged to the Embassy the morning after the
vote that things had gone “badly.” All in all, the rather
low-stakes election represented another missed opportunity
for Armenia to make progress in its flawed electoral
processes, with the average Armenian voter being the main
casualty … yet again. END SUMMARY.


¶2. (SBU) The by-election filled the single-district
parliamentary seat (the Kentron ward in Yerevan) vacated by
Khachatur Sukiasian, a tycoon who fell out of favor with the
authorities when he publicly sided with ex-President Levon
Ter-Petrossian in the February 2008 presidential election.
Sukiasian’s extensive business holdings were subsequently
targeted by the tax authorities, and some were even
expropriated. He went into hiding on March 4, 2008, after
the National Assembly (parliament) stripped his parliamentary
immunity and that of three other MPs who sided with
Ter-Petrossian during the election and the fatal postelection
unrest. After 18 months on the run, Sukiasian surrendered to
authorities on September 1, 2009, and announced a week later
that he would give up his seat to protest the illegal actions
of the authorities.

¶3. (SBU) To contest the seat, the opposition Armenian
National Congress led by Ter-Petrossian advanced the
candidacy of Nikol Pashinian, the outspoken editor-in-chief
of an opposition daily who also went into hiding after the
2008 election unrest, only to resurface in July 2009.
Pashinian is awaiting a January 19 verdict on charges of
attempting to seize power extraconstitutionally, causing mass
disorders, and assaulting police officers. It is widely
expected that he will be convicted of at least some of these
charges, as were many of his opposition colleagues.


¶4. (SBU) In an election marked by a paltry 24 percent turnout
(13,566 out of 55,851 registered voters), Ara Simonian, the
obscure pro-government candidate from the National Unity
party, netted approximately 58 percent of the vote, beating
out the much better-known Pashinian, who won 39 percent.
Davit Hakobian, the madcap leader of the Marxist party,
received only 2.6 percent. The low voter turnout likely
reflected the unusual date of the election — the final day
of Armenia’s ten-day New Year’s holiday — the practically
invisible campaigns of the three candidates, and the growing
cynicism and apathy of Yerevan’s long-suffering voters.


¶5. (SBU) Based on the Embassy’s observation of the vote and
vote count by its ten two-person teams, intimidation and
threats by pro-government forces, low-scale violence, and the
running of some polling stations by pro-government forces
(not the polling station commissions) appeared to be the
worst problems. We heard, but did not observe directly,
several reports of ballot stuffing throughout the vote and
vote count.

¶6. (SBU) Tension and intimidation tactics were on full
display at many of Kentron’s 34 precincts. Our observers
noted intimidation of journalists, opposition proxies, local
observers, and two of our own teams by proxies loyal to
pro-government candidate Ara Simonian, local “observers”
clearly working for Simonian inside the polling stations and,
in some cases, polling station commission members themselves.
Most of this intimidation was verbal (with one proxy
threatening to rape a female journalist covering the vote),

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but some was also physical.

¶7. (SBU) Early in the day, a prominent — and perhaps overly
aggressive — photojournalist was physically accosted and
thrown out of a polling station on the specious grounds that
he did not possess appropriate accreditation. Small-scale
fisticuffs broke out a couple of times in front of our
observers, again normally instigated by pro-government forces
trying to impede monitoring of the vote by the media,
observers, and proxies loyal to Pashinian. At one polling
station, Petros Makeyan, a leader of an opposition party and
former political detainee from the disputed 2008 presidential
election, had his nose broken when 30 pro-government thugs
reportedly beat him, his son, and an associate outside a
polling station. (Police would later characterize Makeyan as
the instigator.)

¶8. (SBU) Most disturbing was the running of some polling
precincts by pro-government vote-fixers -either unaccredited
individuals or thick-necked men presenting themselves as
local “observers” — instead of the precinct electoral
commission. One of them attempted to intimidate journalists,
observers, opposition proxies, and two of our

¶9. (SBU) At one of the most problematic precincts, Embassy
observers who responded to a tip-off of imminent vote-rigging
observed the closure of a polling place for one hour by a
polling place chairman who alleged that the two voters’
lists, the ballot envelope stamp, and ballots had been
stolen. He subsequently kicked out everybody, except for two
journalists who refused to leave, and locked the doors. Afer
the Embassy phoned the Central Electoral Commission to report
the situation, the CEC’s Secretary (third in command at the
CEC) arrived to investigate. When the doors were reopened,
the precinct chairperson reported that no theft had occurred,
and that he had merely placed the ballots in a safe for
safe-keeping out of fear of a theft. At this time, observers
saw the chairperson sneak one of the missing voters’ lists
out of his coat and into the safe where he maintained it had
been all along.


¶10. (C) Early on January 11, Garegin Azarian, the Chairperson
of the Central Electoral Commission, telephoned the Embassy
to obtain our initial reaction to the vote before he reported
to President Sargsian. He acknowledged up front that the
election had gone “badly,” which we agreed was the case.
Azarian complained, “I know all these problems, but I can’t
control what happens” on Election Day. He blamed the “human
factor” for the problems: “I see the problems, but I cannot
solve them.” He further lamented that “polling place
chairpersons do not listen to me.” When we complained about
the media, local observers and opposition proxies being
evicted from polling places, or having their activities
circumscribed by polling place administration or unidentified
individuals, he responded that “the media are very
provocative.” Azarian said he planned to request the
invalidation of the vote at two of the most egregious polling


¶11. (SBU) The Armenian National Congress, of which Pashinian
is a senior member, immediately rejected the election results
as fraudulent and announced it would challenge them in court.
At the same time, however, the ANC touted Pashinian’s
respectable showing as testament to the ANC’s “strength and
growing authority.” ANC officials told the British Deputy
Head of Mission after the vote that Pashinian’s 38 percent
finish pleasantly exceeded their pre-election projection of
30 percent. After the election, Pashinian issued a statement
from his prison cell acknowledging the “disappointment” of
ANC activists and other supporters with the “fraudulent”
vote; he urged them, however, not to “despair” and to
continue to fight for leadership change.

¶12. (SBU) The Charge paid a call January 12 on Vigen
Sargsian, the President’s Deputy Chief of Staff, where he
shared the Embassy’s impressions of the election and its
intention to issue a statement expressing its concerns over
its conduct. The Charge urged the Presidency to support the
invalidation of the most problematic precincts, ensure
credible recounts, and consider re-running some of the
precinct votes. Sargsian (no relation to the President) took
the Charge’s observations under advisement, but urged the

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Embassy to exercise caution with its statement.

——————————————— –
——————————————— –

¶13. (SBU) An unscientific analysis of the vote counts at the
34 polling places indicated that some of the closest races
were those where we circulated our ten observers most
frequently during the day, and some of the least close races
— in favor of Simonian, often at a 2-to-1 margin — occurred
at places where observers visited less frequently. Throughout
the day, citizens observing the vote thanked Embassy
observers for monitoring the election, asserting that our
presence was helping to deter vote fraud. At one vote count,
a female proxy for the opposition effusively thanked the
observer and her FSN for coming to her precinct to observe
the vote, and then taunted the pro-government proxy whom she
alleged hit her on the head during the day to try it again in
front of the Embassy observers. The Embassy also noted that
the most thorough reporting and observation of the election
was carried out by several current USG grantees — the Hetq
online news agency, the independent A1Plus online news
outlet, and two human rights NGOs — the Helsinki Association
and the Helsinki Citizens Assembly of Vanadzor.


¶14. (SBU) Given the lingering effects of the disputed 2008
presidential election and the authorities’ continuing
repression of the opposition, we would have been surprised
had Pashinian won any election. What stretches credulity,
however, is that Pashinian lost so resoundingly to such an
obscure figure as Simonian, who has essentially no name
recognition in Armenia’s personality-driven political
establishment and does not even hail from any of the three
parties of the ruling coalition. Indeed, while Pashinian has
captured headlines — and arguably much sympathy -for two
years, Simonian has been invisible. At the January 8
pre-election rally that ANC and Ter-Petrossian held for
Pashinian, ANC contacts and independent observers predicted
to us they would nonetheless lose the election, mainly
because of vote fraud planned by the authorities. A former
NDI employee told us that “Armenian politics are littered
with numerous examples where politically connected, corrupt
nobodies beat honest, well-known figures.”


¶15. (C) Although the election suffered from a regrettably low
voter turn-out, it nevertheless could have been an
opportunity for Armenian authorities to show progress in
their flawed electoral processes. Our pre-election entreaties
to the authorities to exploit this low-stakes poll to conduct
a free and fair poll apparently fell on deaf ears. Some
habits here truly die hard, and unfortunately electoral fraud
is one, with its main casualty once again the hapless
Armenian voter. In spite of this disappointment, we will
continue to engage officials on the importance of electoral
reform, and hope to use the upcoming lull in the election
cycle (until the next parliamentary elections in May, 2012)
to generate genuine and substantive action on this front.