Roundtable: Findings and Conclusions from the Mayoral and City Council Elections in Yerevan
On 19 September 2023, a round table discussion was held regarding the observations and findings of the Yerevan Mayoral and City Council elections. The event was organized by the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE). The discussion was attended by domestic and international election observers, international organizations, representatives of embassies in Yerevan, and relevant experts from the NGO community.
The panel discussion addressed various aspects of the elections, such as the low voter turnout, the competitive campaign period, preparedness of commission members, and use of technologies in the elections.
The dominating issue was the low voter turnout, which indicates a lack of interest or indifference among the public for these elections. This is unexpected as the Yerevan municipal elections are usually a crucial event in Armenia's political calendar and in this case, were even described as a midterm referendum on the government and ruling party. An explanation for this might be the increased public attention to national and security issues rather than issues pertinent to these municipal elections. Heightened attention on security issues was also reflected in the post-election events of the 19th of September, as the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out again with renewed violence and has dominated political debates and media coverage in Armenia since the elections.
There was a healthy level of political competition, which is a positive development indicating that Armenia has an increasingly pluralistic political landscape. Nevertheless, instances of hate speech were recorded. Of particular concern was the campaign of the Public Voice Party, whose candidate produced viral videos in which he used black PR against his political contenders. Observers note that the use of administrative resources by the ruling party as well as unequal access to media gave certain contenders an unfair advantage. Systematic and large-scale violations were recorded such as the mobilization of voters to attend political rallies ahead of Election Day or vote-buying mechanisms. The former predominantly featured the ruling party whilst the latter also involved other political parties.
Concerning the election day, participants of the round table commented that the election day was overall peaceful and well-administered with no systemic or coordinated violations. However, some violations were observed due to inadequate knowledge of procedures. Improving the preparedness and level of professionalism of the precinct and territorial election commission members is something that should be focused on in the future.
The use of technologies in these elections was discussed and how they have impacted the electoral process. One aspect is the use of cameras in polling stations, which observer groups assess as a positive tool allowing them to thoroughly monitor Election Day, and promoting trust and transparency. In addition, the commission is more accountable and committed to doing its job correctly. There were some issues with access for observers to the video footage: the website of the Central Election Commission (CEC) was down for several hours and access to camera footage was limited in the morning. However, the observers were eventually able to gain access. In the afternoon, 32 polling stations could be observed at once. Observers plan to issue recommendations to the CEC to improve access to the camera footage.
A further technology is the use of biometric fingerprint scanners which observers assess as useful in combatting double voting and is helpful for commission members to inform voters, who may have gone to the wrong polling station, about their correct polling station. The rate of failure or mistake of these scanners is very low and they performed well during these elections.
The low voter turnout is a sign of protest by voters, indicating their dissatisfaction with the current political parties and their programs. Violations during the campaign period are of great concern and legislative reforms are needed to tighten regulations concerning administrative resources. Work also needs to be done concerning practices and behaviour of political parties.
When looking at elections from the past years and comparing these elections to elections before the Velvet Revolution, there is a positive development. The increasingly pluralistic and competitive political landscape is a symbol of Armenia’s democratic development. It is now the role of all to be vigilant and to make sure that there is no democratic backsliding in Armenia and that the progress continues.
The event was held under Chatham House Rules.