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May 23 2018 | 3:41am AET

Election Day in Armenia: Polls open across the country

Source: The Armenian Weekly | Sunday, 02 April 2017
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YEREVAN (A.W.)—Polls across Armenia opened at 8 a.m. on April 2, in the country’s first Parliamentary Election since the adoption of the new Constitution in December 2015.

Voting taking place in a precinct in Yerevan’s Arabkir district. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)

A day earlier, on the evening of April 1, controversy sparked when several Twitter accounts of media outlets and journalists—including the accounts of Yerevan-based CivilNet and Hetq—were mysteriously suspended by Twitter. The bans, which reportedly lasted a few hours, were later lifted without any explanations.

As polls opened throughout the country, several election observers reported overcrowding in a number of precincts. “Sometimes [the precinct] gets a little busy, sometimes a bit disorganized, but for the most part it’s okay. I’ve seen worse,” one Diasporan election observer stationed at a downtown-Yerevan poll told the Armenian Weekly early on Election Day.

About 300 Diasporan Armenians and an additional 300 Armenian repatriates are participating in the election as monitors.

“We’re doing our best to make sure anyone that is here to help others vote are registered and that the process is being carried out properly,” the observer explained, who said that they had not witnessed any major voting violations until that time.

Voting booths at a downtown Yerevan precinct (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)

The observer said that it was his second time monitoring elections in Armenia. “I was here in 2016 for the referendum on constitutional reforms. Things seems to be smoother this time around,” he said. “The people in charge are definitely more neutral, more committed to doing their job,” he added.

Another observer, a former-Diasporan repatriate, who was stationed in another nearby precinct also told the Armenian Weekly that there had been no major problems there.

“It’s been incredibly smooth. The chairwoman has been very professional. We had a little bit of overcrowding, which she took care of. We’ve also had some technical issues with the machines,” he said.

With the new electoral system, 101 Members of Parliament are elected through a two-tier proportional system, including both national and district candidates. Additionally, four seats are reserved for the country’s largest national minorities (Yezidis, Russians, Assyrians, and Kurds).

Voting taking place in a precinct in Yerevan’s Arabkir district. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)

This year, for the first time, new biometric machinery is being used to verify the identities of eligible voters and to register them.  Instances of technical difficulties with the machines were widely reported within the first few hours of voting. It was even reported that the new equipment initially did not recognize President Serge Sarkisian’s fingerprint while he registered to vote earlier today.

Also for the first time, cameras have been set up in 1,500 of the 2,009 precincts to live stream the voting. Soon after polls opened at 8 a.m., reports began surfacing of several cameras not working properly. It was later announced that the cameras were not live streaming due to technical issues, but that they were recording and that the recordings would become available. The live stream was later fixed and made available through electionsonline.am.

“So far so good,” said member of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission, when asked about what she thought about the vote so far. “We have been going from precinct to precinct and all looks well so far. We will continue to visit different polling stations throughout [Yerevan],” she added.

Things have not been perfect in some precincts, though. One election monitor stationed in a Zeitun precinct told the Armenian Weekly that two major arguments had broken out there within the first five hours of voting.

Observers of the Citizen Observer Initiative identified a total of 162 violations and irregularities even before the opening of the polls—during the preparation process prior to the vote. Reports of violations during the vote are ongoing.

The Armenian Weekly was also notified about several unknown individuals loitering outside various precincts and observing voters enter and exit polling stations in various Yerevan districts, including Zeitun, Arabkir, Davtashen, and Kendron (downtown) Yerevan. Several instances of more than one person entering the voting booth have also been reported.

Nonetheless, an Citizen Observer monitor in another downtown Yerevan precinct remains hopeful.

“Yes, of course there are going to be some issues with the voting here. But I feel as though this is fundamentally different than what previous elections have been. I’m excited to see where Armenia is going to be,” he tells the Armenian Weekly.

“When all is said and done, I hope come April 3rd, people are generally happy with the results.”




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