Discussion Summary - Municipal Elections 15 December 2021
On December 5, 2021, 38 communities held their municipal elections in Armenia on this final Election Day of the year, 36 of which were held under the newly-introduced proportional system. Another 14 communities had already held a municipal election on October 17 and November 14 of this year. The elections took place after delays caused by the COVID-19 State of Emergency and the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh, followed by a delayed municipal amalgamation process. In this expert debriefing hosted by the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE), election experts discussed their main findings, conclusions and recommendations from the elections, and reflected on these elections as an indicator of the degree of consolidation of the proportional representation system in Armenia.
- Mr. Daniel Ioannisyan, Executive Director, Union of Informed Citizens
- Mr. Aleksey Petrosyan, Elections Observation Project Coordinator, Transparency International Anticorruption Center
- Mr. Harout Manougian, Election Systems Consultant, EPDE Expert
- Ms. Vardine Grigoryan, Democracy Monitoring and Reporting Coordinator, Helsinki Citizens' Assembly-Vanadzor
Conclusions and trends from the elections
Campaigning and administrative resources
Observers note that, in general, there was strong competition in these elections. This competition, however, was accompanied by the misuse of administrative resources. Previously, this was used to force voters to vote a certain way, but now it appears to be used more by political contenders to make their campaigns more efficient and appealing to voters. There is also no longer a monopoly by the ruling party on the misuse of administrative resources, since it was observed also on the local level by local governments, where quite often different parties hold the power, and not the ruling Civil Contract Party.
In relation to this, the Civil Contract Party presented government subvention projects as achievements of their party during their campaign, although these are government projects, which constitutes abuse of state resources by the ruling party used to bolster their party’s campaign on the local level. Observers also noted active engagement by government officials in campaigning, especially regional governors or staff from municipal authorities or educational institutions.
Concerning violations of campaigning regulations, authorities are not proactive enough in responding to violations, and observers note that regulations concerning campaign materials are still not clear enough to mitigate the risk of misuse of administrative resources. The placement of small-sized banners, for example, is still not regulated in the Electoral Code.
Oversight over campaign financing also remains a major challenge. Reports on campaign expenses are not clear enough, not providing adequate descriptions for services or units spent, which also makes it difficult for observers to trace spending of political parties. Clearer regulations are needed for parties on how to report on their expenditures from their campaign fund.
In general, Election Day went smoothly and no major issues were observed. However, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding or lack of sufficient knowledge about regulations for local elections by parties involved. Observers noted that, on several occasions, parties placed two proxies in polling stations. While this may be allowed for parliamentary elections, for local elections, parties are only allowed to place one proxy per polling station.
On a positive note, in cities with more than 70 000 registered voters, a multiple ballot paper system was used to counteract carousel voting. This also significantly reduced the number of rejected or invalidated ballots.
Performance of election administration
The election management body with the most central role in carrying out the local elections are the territorial election commissions (TECs). In general, they performed their tasks well. However, citizen election observers pointed out a lack of transparency and oversight over some processes and decision-making. Data collected or published by TECs is also not done in a uniform way, which makes the task of observers more difficult, e.g. accessing the declarations submitted to the TECs by candidates. Beginning in January 2022, TEC decisions will need to be published on the CEC website, but this amendment to the Electoral Code had not come into force in time for the municipal elections in 2021.
There were a few incidents when election observers requested that violations be recorded in the official precinct leger/register on Election Day, but the precinct electoral commission (PEC) chairperson refused. These cases were followed up with official complaints filed by the observer groups. In some of these cases, the certification of the PEC chairperson was revoked as a result, meaning that they would not be permitted to work in the administration of elections in the future. This new level of accountability was a commendable development.
Participation of political parties and alliances
In general, there was more participation from different political parties in these elections than in previous years. There were many races with three or four parties competing, making this a more competitive process, which also decreased the likelihood of one party winning an outright majority. This means that coalition building will be needed in several municipalities after the elections.
The main players were the Civil Contract Party, Homeland Salvation Movement Grouping (second widest participation in elections across the board), the Country to Live Party as well as the Republic Party (not to be confused with the Republican Party of Armenia). Although the latter two did not always reach the threshold to gain seats, they demonstrated their ability to launch a campaign and be contenders in the race. Although Civil Contract came first in 27 cities, the final distribution of seats and who will appoint the mayor in those communities where they did not win an outright majority will depend on whether they can form a coalition local government. Other parties often teamed up in opposition against them. Some other competing parties were not as broadly recognizable as the above-mentioned parties and are still establishing their roots in different cities and therefore did not participate in as many cities’ elections, but are parties to look out for in the future and may become potential coalition partners.
Concerning the growing number of electoral alliances, observers noted that some political parties joined together in an alliance but were not actually represented in the list of candidates or were placed last on the list. The electoral alliance vehicle was used as a way to de-emphasize the name of the political parties that were really behind them and thus were often formed in an artificial way just to meet the requirements in the Electoral Code. There are several alliances which are named after the first candidate on the list, which indicates that they are being used as a platform for one candidate to be able to run in the elections which now are conducted under a proportional system. In some cases, that first candidate themself never officially becomes a member of the political party they are running with, in order to be able to present themselves as an independent.
A “1-in-3” gender quota accompanied the expansion of the proportional representation system at the municipal level to increase women’s participation. However, there were cases where pressure was exerted on women to withdraw their candidacy after lists were registered, in effect violating the gender quota requirement. There is a gap in the current law in that, if no more eligible women candidates remain on the list, the seats then go to the male candidates, defeating the purpose of the gender quota. Observers also noted that, during interviews, women candidates would be accompanied by male colleagues, which may be a cultural issue, but also indicates that the political sphere is still very male-dominated.
Voter turnout in Armenia is interesting as the voter lists of communities are extremely long and still include persons that do not live in this community or have even moved abroad. There is a lot of migration within Armenia and also emigration abroad, so voter lists overestimate the number of people that actually will be in the community on Election Day to vote. Therefore, when official voter turnout is stated to be at, say, 50% for a community, in reality, the turnout of voters who actually live in the community might be significantly higher.
Transparency is an aspect that needs to be worked on in order to increase trust in the political actors who then will be handling government budgets, including:
- regulations on how to report campaign fund expenditures;
- how campaign staff is categorized and paid (if claimed that they work as a volunteer, they do not need to be paid from the campaign fund).
Increasing capacities and the professionalization of political parties will be important as more parties come onto the political scene. There were cases where parties were not able to get registered because they were unaware of documentation needed or the geographic quotas required.
Outlook for 2022
There will be further municipal elections expected in the autumn of 2022 for those municipalities that were not part of the most recent amalgamation process. Yerevan will hold its next municipal election in 2023.
There is also an ongoing constitutional reform process, where some are advocating for a return to a semi-presidential system in Armenia. Others feel that abandoning the parliamentary model may pose a risk to Armenia’s democratic development.
Therefore, there is still a long way to consolidate the proportional representation system in Armenia. However, the exercise of forming post-election coalitions in different cities where no single party won an outright majority is a positive development that will hopefully contribute to the further maturing of Armenia’s democratic culture.
 In this system, the voter does not mark their preferred choice on one ballot paper using a pen, but rather chooses from multiple ballot papers the one of their preferred party or candidate, and submits this ballot in an envelope.
 Not all elections were conducted using a proportional system. The municipal electoral system was reformed such that cities with at least 4,000 registered voters would use the system of proportional party lists, while smaller communities still use the majoritarian First-Past-The-Post system. More on this here: https://www.epde.org/en/news/details/armenian-local-elections-rescheduled-and-expanded-due-to-municipal-amalgamations.html