There are 2,482,238 voters in Armenia, or are there?

The Armenian Police have published the number of voters on the electoral roll for the 6 May Parliamentary elections. According to the figures released to the media on 25 April there are 2,482.238 voters on the list, and eligible to vote. Some are questioning if this is right.

In the sixth part of its series of briefings on the 2012 Parliamentary elections in Armenia, LINKS Analysis looks at the issue of the voters list, and at claims that the list is inflated by thousands of voters. It also looks at what the OSCE/ODIHR mission is saying on this subject, which is so vital to a proper election process.

Population figures are a very sensitive issue in Armenia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union twenty years ago the population of the country has decreased according to most sources. Successive Armenian governments have tried to hide this fact, seeing it not only as a sign of political failure, but also as a sign of national weakness. At one point the government even banned the publication of the figures of the importation of floor, since it was thought that from those figures one could deduct the number of people living in the country. The issue is more complicated because a large number of Armenians move to Russia for parts of the year for seasonal work. Others lead a double life, having one home in Armenia and another in the Georgian region of Javakheti. Compiling an electoral list in such circumstances one has to admit is not easy. In Armenia the job is in the hands of the Visa and Registration Department of the Armenian Police (PVD). The issue continues to provide a controversial backdrop to the election process.

Opposition politicians are crying foul, saying that the voters list is inflated by many thousands and that this is the precursor of election fraud. Somehow giving credence to these allegations are reports that appear regularly in the media of hundreds of people registered in one house or flat, of people living in buildings that have been demolished, and generally of people on the list who should not be there.

The OSCE/ODHIR Election Monitoring Mission has been somewhat economical in its comments on the voters list in its two interim reports published so far. In its first interim report on 5 April 2012 the Mission stated:

“Provisional voter lists were posted on the PVD and CEC websites; they should also be available in the vicinity of polling stations, enabling voters to check their records.6 The PVD informed the OSCE/ODIHR EOM that as of 27 March, 2,485,844 voters were registered, some 157,000 more than for the 2008 presidential election. Several OSCE/ODIHR EOM interlocutors have raised concerns about the quality of the voter list and the high number of Armenian citizens living abroad who remain on the voter list, with some alleging a deliberate increase of the number of registered voters. The authorities said the quality of the population and voter registers was continuously improving, and this increased the number of voters, along other factors such as citizens turning 18 and a number of diaspora Armenians being granted citizenship. “

In a second, somewhat more terse report, published 27 April 2012 the Mission states:

“In an effort to improve the quality of the voter list, the police continues to revise the data, including by door-to-door checks, in co-operation with local authorities, political parties and domestic observers. This decreased the number of registered voters by 3,251 between 27 March and 16 April, due to removal of entries of deceased and deregistered people. The PVD explained to the OSCE/ODIHR EOM that the increase in the number of new passports issued during 2011–2012 was mainly due to replacements of previously prolonged passports.”

The mission further explains that:

“The PVD informed the OSCE/ODIHR EOM that some 200,000 passports were issued in 2009, around 270,000 in 2010, around 398,000 in 2011, and around 100,000 from 1 January to 10 April 2012.”

This neutral wording in the OSCE/ODIHR Interim Reports gives very little indication as to its views of the accuracy or otherwise of the lists.

 The issue of the voters list is not new, either in Armenia or in other post-Soviet republics. Obvious inaccuracies, even if not motivated by the desire for electoral fraud, add to the distrust in the process in societies where elections have traditionally been manipulated. On the other hand the authorities are sometimes hesitant lest overzealousness in deleting people from the list ends up disenfranchising part of the population. This is the argument the Armenian police have used when confronted with evidence of people registered in buildings that have long been demolished.

Those agencies of the international community that engage with elections processes in the post Soviet space have not always taken the issue of the voters lists seriously. This compilation of the list needs to be an ongoing process from one election to the other and not the result of some last minute frenzy. Not enough of the plentiful international assistance aimed at the process of democratisation has been allocated for this purpose. However equally the political parties themselves usually do not prioritise this work and fail to confront the government with factual inaccuracies. Armenia is a classic case of many of these shortcomings

No doubt we will hear much more on the issue of the voters list after the elections on 6 May.

This is the sixth in a series of briefings on the 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Armenia, prepared by LINKS Analysis. This article may be quoted and/or reproduced in part or full as long as a clear attribution to the source is included with a reference to this website.

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Read previous briefings on the 2012 Armenian Parliamentary Elections:

(1) The Context

(2) The Choice: The parties of the governing coalition

(3) The Choice: Levon Ter-Petrosyan hopes his four year struggle will bear results

(4)  Smaller parties may have important role if they can pass 5% threshold

(5) For Armenian Political Parties, Karabakh remains the elephant in the room

source: LINKS Analysis (c)