Paris-Yerevan, February 9, 2016. The constitutional referendum in Armenia on December 6, 2015, was marred by serious electoral fraud, reported FIDH member organisation in Armenia Civil Society Institute (CSI) in its recent observation report. Violations, documented by CSI on the voting day and via the hotline of legal counsel, support the conclusion that the referendum was organised in a top-down manner with citizens being unlawfully encouraged, forced or even threatened to vote in favour of the massive constitutional overhaul.
It is noteworthy that Armenia has a poor record of organising constitutional referendums: two out of three attempts to amend the constitution ended up with controversial referendums marred by numerous violations. The December referendum - the third in 24 years of independence - was no exception: international and local observers, including the CSI, documented multiple voting and proxy voting fraud, vote count falsification, pressure on voters and observers, violations of electoral procedures and abuse of power by the electoral commission members representing the ruling party and by the representatives of political parties observing the vote. Both groups have systematically used various methods, including unlawful ones, to secure the voter turnout and the desired result in favour of the amendments.
Citizens were not given enough time to acquaint themselves with the changes the new Constitution introduced, neither was there enough time for public discussions: the parliament had only a few weeks to discuss the text and public debate was limited to two months. Moreover, prior to the vote, citizens often called the CSI hotline to report the inaccessibility of the draft amendments.
The new constitution, which retained only two Articles from its 2005 version, was primarily meant to shift Armenia from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic. There were speculations about the incumbent President trying to secure his political survival: the parliamentary political system would allow him to maintain power after the end of his second term.
"As a result, the vote in the referendum became a vote of confidence in the current government since the referendum was initiated by the incumbent authorities in a top-down manner. The referendum was perceived by many citizens as a means for the incumbent president to remain in power after the end of his second - and last - term", declared Artak Kirakosyan, Chairperson of CSI.
538 reports of electoral violations have been studied so far by the office of the Prosecutor General, 62 of them resulted in criminal cases and 19 being already sent to court. The CSI emphasizes, however, that the reports on violations are being investigated superficially, and the action taken by the law enforcement is largely formalistic. Moreover, the Armenian Criminal Code sets very soft sanctions for electoral fraud. Thus, even when a case is brought to justice, the transgressors get away with minor fines or suspended sentences. Such a practice reinforces the atmosphere of impunity and deepens public mistrust in the authorities and the justice system as a whole.
“The Armenian authorities missed the opportunity to organise the referendum in compliance with local and international standards of transparent electoral process. By effectively investigating reports on violations and by ensuring inclusiveness of further reforms, the authorities should now demonstrate that they place citizens at the center of the decision making process",- said Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH.
FIDH and CSI call upon the Armenian authorities to bring to justice all those responsible for electoral fraud, to introduce severe penalties for electoral violations and related crimes in the Criminal Code and to implement the recommendations provided by the CSI and other organisations to ensure transparent, fair and free vote in Armenia.