Preliminary report snap parliamentary elections
The Akanates (Eyewitness) is a domestic, non-partisan observation initiative founded in 2018 by Transparency International Anticorruption Center, Journalists’ Club Asparez, “Restart” Scientific and Educational Foundation and Law Development and Protection Foundation. More about the network and their observation methodology here.
In this preliminary report the Akanates observation mission observed preparations of CECs, TECs, PECs, generally finding that this went quite smoothly. Some issues were found regarding anti-epidemic provisions in PECs, as well as accessibility of PECs for persons with mobility issues. Observers commented on pre-election campaign activities, which included many of the participating parties and candidates. Instances of misuse of state resources, “charity work” conducted by a political party or candidate, which is prohibited during the official election campaign period, were also recorded. Observers also criticize current regulations which do not adequately provide for transparency and accountability of campaign finances from the political parties. In the current post-war context, hate speech during the election period has reached dangerous levels.
Preliminary results in detail
On May 10, 2021, the President signed an order setting June 20 as the date of the coming parliamentary election.
The Akanates observer mission had already begun its activities on May 1. This report covers the pre-campaign period, before the start of the regulated official campaign period on June 7. It provides information about the administration of the election, including the work of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and territorial electoral commissions (TECs), municipal bodies, campaign activities that preceded the official campaign period, the use of administrative resources, as well as the general campaign atmosphere.
Central Electoral Commission (CEC)
Since the official election call, the CEC has held seven sessions between May 10 and June 6. It is during these sessions that decisions are finalized relating to the organization of the June 20 early parliamentary election.
At first, the online livestream of the CEC sessions was not working due to technical issues. These issues were later resolved by the CEC. On May 24, a revamped CEC website was launched and the provision for livestreaming CEC sessions was restored.
In observing the CEC sessions, as is usually the case, there were no recorded instances where CEC members disagreed with each other or voted against the decisions proposed. Neither were there recorded instances of differing proposals being made by the CEC members. All decisions have been made unanimously, for or against.
Territorial Electoral Commissions (TECs)
During the coverage period, Akanates LTOs made a combined total of 64 visits to the 38 TECs. There were three instances where the TECs were not equipped with appropriate space and equipment for effective communication (ex. the office was in disrepair, the restrooms were not functional, none of the lighting was working, most of the chairs were broken, the phone numbers were out of service, etc.).
During the coverage period, the work of the TECs went quite smoothly, without any incidents or violations. Direct observation showed that women members of the TECs were actively involved in decision-making. Cooperation between the TECs and our LTOs was for the most part open, cordial and constructive, without any impediments.
There have been only very few changes in the personnel of the TECs since the previous parliamentary election in 2018. No TEC members were found to be ineligible for the position due to any restrictions foreseen in the law. It is notable to mention, however, that a number of TEC members also have other positions in the public sector. They include:
Galoyan Vrezh Nodari, chair of TEC #28 in Kotayk region, is also deputy head of the environment and subsoil oversight body,
Asatryan Hovhannes Danieli, chair of TEC #18 in Aragatsotn region, is also head of the municipal affairs department of the Aragatsotn Regional Governor’s office,
Hayrapetyan Vazgen Shiraki, member of TEC #18 in Aragatsotn region, is also head of the Talin employment office,
Arakelyan Vahagn Volodiayi, deputy chair of TEC #38 in Tavush region, is also head of the Tavush regional office of the environment and subsoil oversight,
Mehrabyan Sonya Volodiayi, member of TEC #38 in Tavush region, is also head of the social services regional office in Ijevan,
Azatyan Armik Seryozhayi, deputy chair of the TEC #37 in Tavush region, is also head of the Noyemberyan regional branch of the real estate cadastre committee.
Although Article 31, Section 4 of the Law on the Civil Service explicitly allows civil servants to serve as TEC members, nevertheless, such situations do introduce risks of the misuse of administrative resources, given the fact that they may be subject to influence from their supervisor and also that some citizens that interact with their agency and rely on its services could be influenced in their decision-making.
According to Article 39 of the Republic of Armenia Electoral Code, a TEC member may not be a member of a political party or involved in political activities. Armen Tamrazyan, chair of TEC #7 in Yerevan, was identified on the Prosperous Armenia Party’s website (as of June 8) as a member of that party’s political council, although Mr. Tamrazyan told our LTO that he had resigned from the Prosperous Armenia Party in 2017-2018.
There was one case where a TEC member was revealed to have previously been involved in extralegal behavior; however, no case was launched and the member continues to serve in his position. Specifically, during the September 23, 2018 city council election in Yerevan, chair of TEC #8 Norik Yeranyan obstructed the work of a journalist by hitting the hand of Diana Davtyan, representing the 1in.am news agency. The incident took place in precint 8/05.
In TEC #15 in Armavir region, there was a case of election documents being taken out of the TEC office. Specifically, during two visits from LTOs, it was revealed that the secretary of the TEC had taken the official register home.
Precinct Electoral Commissions (PECs)
A total of 2009 precincts have been assigned for conducting the coming parliamentary election. On June 5, the PECs held their first sittings, of which 42 were observed by Akanates LTOs. As with the TECs, cooperation between our observers and the PECs went smoothly.
Of the 47 precincts visited by Akanates LTOs, 4 were deemed to be problematic in maintaining anti-pandemic provisions. A further 23 were deemed to be difficult to access for persons with mobility disabilities.
The CEC and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) jointly undertook the training of PEC members, beginning on June 6. To date, Akanates LTOs have observed 13 of the training sessions, in which 223 PEC members participated. The observers concluded that the training sessions were productive.
The official campaign period is foreseen in the Electoral Code to provide equal opportunity to the political parties and alliances of parties participating in the election to access public resources, undertake campaigning and transparently report expenditures and donations. The official campaign period also provides for restrictions on the use of administrative resources.
The official campaign period for the 2021 early parliamentary election began on June 7 and will end on June 18. The day before the election is considered a “Day of Silence”, during which campaign activity is not permitted.
Campaign activities undertaken before the official campaign period are not regulated by the Electoral Code. Taking advantage of this opportunity, many of the participating parties and candidates undertook active campaigning unhindered, well before the start of the official campaign period.
Use of Administrative Resources
The de facto start of the campaign can be considered to have launched on March 18, 2021, when Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that an agreement had been reached with the parliamentary opposition parties to hold an early election on June 20. After this announcement, the Prime Minister began an intensive itinerary of visits to different regions and gatherings with local residents. Prior to the initiative, the last such visit had taken place on December 21, 2020. According to the Prime Minister’s official website, the Prime Minister visited Aragatsotn region on March 20, Armavir region on March 28, Vayots Dzor region on April 17, Gegharkunik region on May 9 and again on May 27. These visits and gatherings included elements of election campaigning and involved the use of administrative resources.
One other instance of the misuse of administrative resources was recorded on June 4, during the visit of Nikol Pashinyan to the city of Artashat. Specifically, the gathering was attended by the employees of Artashat Water Company, which is headed by the Civil Contract Party’s Artashat office director Carlen Mkrtchyan, as well as state childcare center workers, who informed us that they had been ordered to attend the event half an hour before it started, school principals and employees. According to our observers, the latter were being specially admitted to the closed gathering.
Another example of the misuse of administrative resources by the government took place on May 29, 2021, when the Public TV channel broadcast meetings between the Civil Contract Party’s supporters and then-acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in the different administrative districts of Yerevan, in which Civil Contract Party campaign posters were prominently displayed. Although such situations are not regulated by law, it clearly violates the principle of equal opportunity between the governing party and competing political sides.
An instance of the misuse of administrative resources was also recorded on the part of the Armenia Alliance. Specifically, in the Karahunj neighborhood of the amalgamated Goris municipality in the Syunik region, chairs, tables and other furniture were moved from the community’s cultural center by district supervisor Lusine Avetyan to the campaign office opened in Karahunj by the Armenia Alliance. The coordinator of that specific campaign office was Avetyan’s son, Boris Ghazaryan.
Taking into account that regulating every specific aspect of campaigning through legislation is not realistic, it is critically important for bodies with access to public resources to ensure that they are not misused or perceived to be misused, and instead foster a culture of competitive and fair campaign environments, where no single party is bestowed with unequal advantages.
Distribution of Campaign Material
Late May and early April were an especially active period for campaign activity, as it encompassed the two-week period between the Prime Minister’s formal resignation and the two votes by the National Assembly not to choose a new Prime Minister. It was on May 10, after the second such attempt that the Parliament was dissolved and President Armen Sarkissian officially set the election date to be June 20. During this interval, the Akanates observer mission recorded intensive political advertising, the opening of campaign offices, and organizing public events by a number of political parties including the Civil Contract Party, Republic Party, Bright Armenia Party, 5165 National Conservative Movement, the Armenia Alliance, and the Shirinyan-Babajanyan Democrats’ Alliance. Notably, the Armenia Alliance held a large rally in Yerevan’s Freedom Square on May 9.
Observers noted billboards exceeding 5 square meters in area that did not include information about who paid for them, the number printed, or information about the printing company. They were for the Civil Contract Party, Bright Armenia Party, Republic Party, and Armenia Alliance.
The CEC, during its May 29 sitting, reminded the political parties and alliances participating in the election that the official campaign period would begin on June 7 and that any advertising associated with their campaigns that exceeded 5 square meters in area would need to be removed voluntarily by June 6. Otherwise, all posters that are not on the CEC’s distributed list would be subject to removal.
At its May 31, 2021 sitting, the CEC recognized the following posters exceeding 5 square meters in area to be associated with a campaign:
The poster with a picture of Edmon Marukyan and the Bright Armenia Party name,
The poster with a picture of Norayr Norikyan and the Fair Armenia Party name,
The poster that mentions that Mount Ararat’s elevation is 5165 meters, by the 5165 National Conservative Movement party,
The poster with a picture of Levon Shirinyan and Arman Babajanyan together, with the Shirinyan-Babajanyan Democrat’s Alliance name,
The poster with a picture of Tigran Arzakantsyan and the Tigran Arzakantsyan Charity Foundation name, with the slogan “The strength is in the man”,
The poster with a picture of Robert Kocharyan’s book “Life and Freedom”, with the slogan “While Building Armenia”.
The CEC determined Tigran Arzakantsyan’s poster to be associated with the Democratic Party of Armenia, and Robert Kocharyan’s poster with the Armenia Alliance. Although it was not commented on by the CEC, another poster that should have been included was the one featuring the President of the Armenians of Russia Union Ara Abramyan, which featured the slogans “Armenians of Russia Union, 20 Years with Armenia and Artsakh” and “Our unity is the best guarantor of our security.” Although Abramyan is not a candidate on any party’s list, during public events and on the Alliance Progressive-Centrist Party’s Facebook page, he has publicly endorsed the Our Home is Armenia Party’s united list, encompassing members of the Alliance Progressive Centrist Party.
It is important to note that, the CEC’s decisions on posters associated with campaigns is problematic from the perspective of the Law on Justifications for Administration and Administrative Proceedings in that they do not meet the requirements for justifying administrative acts. These decisions do not properly define the term “associated with a campaign” nor the criteria used by the CEC in determining whether a given poster is associated with a campaign.
Robert Kocharyan appealed the CEC decision to the Armenian Administrative Court, which felt the application was sufficient to strike down the decision. The court found that “Since the terms ‘campaign’, ‘campaign material, poster’, ‘associated with a campaign’ are not defined in the Electoral Code, and as a result the decision under appeal has not adequately justified its reasoning, the decision under appeal violates the principle of legal certainty and predictability.” The court pointed out that “The principle of legal certainty and predictability requires a higher bar for justifying a legal act” and that “the CEC has not adequately provided its reasoning for the decision under appeal.” In the end, the court concluded that there is sufficient grounds for overruling the CEC’s decision and that the poster shall no longer be considered to be “associated with a campaign.” As a result, dozens or even hundreds of posters exceeding 5 square meters in area will be left up during the campaign period, outside of the official campaign period provisions for the equal distribution of billboard space.
We also observed a number of online ads for the Armenia Alliance, Civil Contract Party, and I’m Honoured Alliance on different websites. These expenses are not required to be made from the official campaign account and publicly declared. They are thus problematic in that they do not count toward the Electoral Codes’ expenditure cap.
In the past, charity work has been undertaken during the campaign period as one way to influence voter sentiment. Armenia’s Criminal Code prohibits charity work (the distribution or promising of money, food, securities, other material, services, etc.) in the name of a candidate or political party during the period between the setting of the election date and the announcement of results. Exceptions are provided for when the item bears the name or logo of the party and does not exceed 3000 AMD (approx. $6) in value.
Charitable organizations whose names could be perceived to be associated with a political party or candidate participating in the election cannot carry out charity work during the official campaign period.
Prior to the start of the official campaign period, Akanates observers recorded the following instances of charity work or promises:
On April 21, 2021, it was announced that the Tigran Arzakantsyan Charitable Foundation was instrumental in opening a new sewing workship in the city of Gavar, creating over 100 new jobs for the city’s residents.
On May 13, 2021, Ara Abramyan announced a new initiative for youth called “My Mentor”, through which support would be provided to youth with ideas in the areas of business, culture, education or other sectors that included a social impact component.
On May 15, 2021, in the Amasia community in Shirak region, a ceremony was held for the establishment of a new church financed by Vahe Hakobyan, leader of the Resurgent Armenia Party and a candidate on the Armenia Alliance list. Hakobyan is also the former regional governor of the Syunik region.
On May 20, 2021, the Tigran Arzakantsyan Charitable Foundation provided aid to border guards in the Upper Shorzha border village in the Gegharkunik region, near Vardenis. Specifically, tents, sleeping bags, waterproof jackets, blankets, bottled water and two generators were delivered.
On May 21, 2021, an opening ceremony was held for the gymasium of Elementary School #6 in Goris, renovated with the support of the My Step Foundation. The event was attended by Anna Hakobyan, chair of the foundation’s board and wife of Civil Contract Party Prime Ministerial candidate Nikol Pashinyan, as well as Lena Nazaryan, My Step Foundation board member and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, and Karo Avanesyan deputy regional governor of Syunik. That specific gymnasium had actually already taken place on April 26.
On May 25, 2021, Ara Abramyan donated modern equipment and furnishings for border outposts to army bases.
The Prosperous Armenia Party posted an invitation on the doors and elevators of multi-unit buildings in the P. Duryan neighborhood of the Avan administrative district of Yerevan. It read “Dear residents of Avan, Gagik Petrosyan, candidate for the Prosperous Armenia Party in Avan, invites you and your children to the playground next to Building #33 in the Duryan neighbourhood on June 1 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. for a happy and unforgettable time with mythic heroes.”
On June 1, 2021, the Armenians of Russia Union donated computers to the school in Lermontovo and gym equipment to the school in Fioletovo.
On June 2, 2021, the Armenians of Russia Union donated computers, lights, and homeware to the specialized orphanage in Kharberd in the name of its President Ara Abramyan.
On June 2, 2021, Vortus NGO, with the participation of Karin Tonoyan, distributed military tents, sleeping bags, clothes, food and hygiene products to soldiers on the country’s borders in the Syunik region.
On June 6, 2021, with financing from Tigran Arzakantsyan Charitable Foundation President Tigran Arzakantsyan and his wife Natalya Rotenberg, a new children’s recreation center and play area was opened in Gavar.
It is necessary to underscore that charitable activity undertaken after May 11 may be subject to criminal prosecution under Article 154.2, Section 5 of the Armenian Criminal Code.
Financing of Campaigns
Parties and alliances participating in the early parliamentary elections are required to open a campaign account at most seven days after the CEC registers the parties’ candidate lists. The following expenses must be paid out of the campaign account: campaigning through mass media, halls used for campaign gatherings and meetings with voters, renting premises (except for campaign offices), campaign posters, printed campaign material and their placement, any material (including printed material) distributed to voters.
According to the Electoral Code, the campaign accounts must be opened in the period between June 1 to 7. In fact, campaigning had already begun a month earlier. Nevertheless, goods and services acquired prior to the official campaign period must be included in the campaign accounts expenses at their market value. Unfortunately, the failure to include information regarding the paying entity, the quantity printed, and the printing company on billboards and posters makes it infeasible to verify the figures included by the parties in their declarations. It is possible that some of these campaign expenses were paid directly by a political party; however, such expenses made before the official campaign period will only be made publicy available by March 15, 2022, the due date for parties’ annual financial filings.
It is evident that current regulations do not adequately provide for transparency and accountability of campaign finance from the political parties. The loose regulation surrounding expenses made outside of the official campaign period creates issues that partially allows for the circumventing of the guarantees of an equal playing field during the official campaign period. Although the proportional electoral system adds greater weight to the campaign platforms of the participating political parties and alliances, campaigning in Armenia remains a competition among resources, under which the sources and legality of campaign financing remains under doubt.
From the persepective of campaign finance, third-party expenditures (ex. from the Armenians of Russia Union, some mass media) remains an equally important factor, as is strikingly apparent during the current campaign.
Local Self-Government (Municipal) Bodies
Local Self-Government (municipal) bodies also play a role in providing for unobstructed campaigning. They are required to provide boards for parties to post their campaign material and premises for campaign meetings with voters and other election-related uses.
Beginning 10 days before the official campaign period, the mayor is required to provide a board for affixing printed campaign material free of charge (except at public schools). This must be done in such a way that equal area is provided to each political party. This responsibility rests with the mayor. Not later than 20 days after a parliamentary election is called, regional governors and the Mayor of Yerevan must present a list of halls and buildings that can be made available to political parties free of charge
During the coverage period, Akanates LTOs visited around 150 different communities. The placement of boards for affixing campaign material was confirmed through direct observation in accordance with the required schedule. During the coverage period, applications were submitted by the Prosperous Armenia Party and the Armenia Alliance for premises to hold gatherings with voters.
During the official campaign period, seven different communities have undertaken infrastructure works funded by the municipal budget; however, these expenses were made with funds foreseen in the municipalities’ annual budgets.
Social assistance has been provided from municipal budgets, specifically to the families of those killed in the 2020 Artsakh War, those in vulnerable circumstances, and those recovering from wind damage. One resident’s tax penalties were covered in Gavar in the Gegharkunik region.
Hate speech is rhetoric that denies the dignity and equality of human rights and attempts to lower the standing of an individual or group in society. Hate speech carries risk of physical or psychological violence, including based on one’s political views.
After the 2018 revolution, hate speech in Armenia has progressively worsened, both on behalf of government figures and the opposition. It is often combined with disinformation or the withholding of communication.
In the current post-war context, hate speech during the election period has reached dangerous levels. Political competitors, especially in the frame of “old” and “new” regimes, often direct inappropriate extremist slurs against each other, including representatives at the highest levels. Their rhetoric includes discriminatory, offensive, and threatening subtexts, which worsens political tensions, promotes hate and deepens divisions. The following pronouncements were absolutely unacceptable: “We will break that gang’s teeth”, “We will cut you all, you who eat 500 AMD kebabs”, “If he can provide a doctor’s note that clears the state of his mental health, then we can discuss having a debate”, and others. Establishing one’s manhood has become a topic of campaign rhetoric. “I am ready to duel with any kind of weapon, but I don’t think that the one who talks of manhood can establish his masculinity.” Or “It’s easy to act like a “macho”.”
Enmity and hate are spreading through different segments of the public. Akanates LTOs have observed extreme partisanship and enmity between different sides.
The hate-filled environment is inevitably leading to aggressive behavior. Naturally, this context has led to more frequent vandalism of campaign materials. Akanates LTOs have recorded a few dozen such incidents, mostly targeting the billboard ads for Robert Kocharyan’s “Life and Freedom” book as well as the Shirinyan-Babajanyan Democrats’ Alliance and Aram Abramyan posters. Media has already reported on an incident where supporters of Nikol Pashinyan attached the Armenia Alliance campaign office in Charentsavan, including throwing eggs at its windows.
This atmosphere of hate and enmity could well spiral out of control and lead to unforeseeable and damaging consequences for the Republic of Armenia and its public. The blame is shared by both government figures and all those political figures whose campaign rhetoric includes slurs and offensive language, aimed at manipulating the emotions of traumatized citizens to influence their opinions about the election.
Obstructing the Rights of Observers
There were two registered instances where the rights of observers were obstructed. On June 4, the Civil Contract Party held a gathering where the public could hear from Nikol Pashinyan in the theater building of the city of Artashat. Entrance into the building was denied to our observers. Security staff said that the meeting was an internal political party event; however, recorded evidence showed that the meeting was in fact open to the public, and was also attended by minors. A similar instance took place on June 6 at the music school in the city of Abovyan, again during gathering of the Civil Contract Party with local residents.
 Republic of Armenia Electoral Code, Article 39, Section 5
 Republic of Armenia Electoral Code, Article 19
 Republic of Armenia Electoral Code, Articles 19 and 23
 https://bit.ly/3z11Pmb; https://bit.ly/3vOXroj; https://bit.ly/3g5kVyJ; https://bit.ly/3piHaFO
 Republic of Armenia Electoral Code, Article 21, Section 9
 http://datalex.am/?app=AppCaseSearch&page=default&tab=administrative, Administrative Case ՎԴ/6068/05/21
 Republic of Armenia Criminal Code, Article 154.2, Section 5
 Republic of Armenia Electoral Code, Article 19, Section 6
 https://www.facebook.com/ara.abramyan.official/photos/a.314270512267895/1413694798992122; https://www.mymentor.am/
 www.facebook.com/watch/?v=807556496542600, www.aravot.am/2021/05/15/1191328/
 Republic of Armenia Electoral Code, Article 26, Section 1
 Republic of Armenia Electoral Code, Article 27, Section 1
 Republic of Armenia Electoral Code, Article 27, Section 2
 Republic of Armenia Electoral Code, Article 21
 Republic of Armenia Electoral Code, Article 19
 http://www.ijevancity.am/Pages/DocFlow/Default.aspx?a=v&g=6c6becfa-0ef6-4390-b7b8-8b62477c05e9, http://www.ijevancity.am/Pages/DocFlow/Default.aspx?a=v&g=98d33fd4-1308-4935-90c1-70e110f39bc6