Voter Math: Electoral Roll Figures Don’t Add Up For Many In Armenia

VOTER MATH: ELECTORAL ROLL FIGURES DON’T ADD UP FOR MANY IN ARMENIA

VOTE 2013 | 30.01.13 | 13:14

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By SIRANUYSH GEVORGYAN
ArmeniaNow reporter

While the Armenian Police report a significant increase in the number
of eligible voters as compared to the presidential election five years
ago, many continue to challenge the very possibility of such a rise
given the recent socio-economic and demographic trends in the country.

The authorities, however, explain it by the drastic improvement of the
population registration as well as an increased number of citizenship
acquisitions, including by Georgian and Syrian Armenians.

According to the data released by the Police on Tuesday (20 days before
the February 18 presidential election as is required by the law), now
a total of 2,507,004 citizens have the right to vote in Armenia. In
2008, that number stood at 2,312,945, meaning that in conditions
of a continuing outward migration and low birth rates the number
of voters in Armenia has increased by nearly 200,000 within just a
few years. According to the latest census of the population taken in
2011, Armenia’s permanent population is estimated at 2,870,000, and
the total number of the population, including non-resident citizens,
makes 3,285,000. Armenia’s current electoral roll also includes voters
who are absent from the country. The difference between the present
and registered population being 415,000.

The opposition has continuously accused the authorities of inflating
the voter lists, including by keeping the names of absent citizens
or at least by failing to keep records of them in a separate register.

The opposition has claimed that the authorities use the votes of
nearly half a million people to rig elections in favor of a government
candidate or a ruling party.

The police, meanwhile, announced that the number of voters has
increased not least because people who were not registered in the state
register back in 2008 began to get this registration in recent years
in order to get some social benefits. The agency keeping and updating
the register says that the list of voters has also expanded because
in recent years citizens of Georgia and Syria of Armenian origin
have been acquiring the nationality of Armenia due to situations
in their respective countries (including the strained relations
between Georgia and Russia in the wake of the August 2008 war and
the continuing civil war in Syria).

Thus, according to the police data, more than 20,000 Georgian citizens
have received the citizenship of Armenia since 2010, while the number
of Syrian Armenians getting Armenian citizenship in 2012 reached
about 4,000.

On Monday, three presidential candidates, including Heritage Party
leader Raffi Hovannisian, Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hayrikyan
and ex-Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan issued a joint statement,
in particular calling for making up a separate list of voters that
would include citizens absent from the country. Under Armenian laws,
most citizens outside the country cannot vote on Election Day, only
a limited number of diplomats and their families are allowed to vote.

In calling for a separate list of absent voters, the three candidates
acknowledged that their voting rights are violated by the law. But in
order to exclude vote rigging in existing conditions they suggest that
the names of those who have been absent from Armenia for the preceding
180 days but are included in the voter lists be put in separate lists.

Even British Ambassador to Armenia Catherine Leach recently raised
the issue of the accuracy of the Armenian voter list.

“I know there have been commendable efforts by local police and NGOs
to check lists and deal with some of the inaccuracies and practices
which look open to abuse (e.g. multiple names registered to a garage).

But the fact that the list has continued to increase since 1991
when people’s day to day experience tells them that the country has
lost population creates unease for the ordinary voter,” wrote the
ambassador on her personal blog on January 22. “Thinking about ways to
give people confidence in the list – perhaps by requiring an annual
re-registering – might be the answer in future. In the meantime,
the authorities can make every effort to follow up and investigate
precincts where there appear to be unusually high turn-out or vote
tabulations showing surprisingly repetitive numbers.”

And presidential candidate Arman Melikyan, citing his own estimations,
argues that at this point only 1.5 million out of 2.5 million citizens
included in the current electoral roll are physically present in
Armenia.

But the police are not going to meet the request of the candidates.

Police Passport and Visa Department Head Hovhannes Kocharyan told
RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that they do not possess integral data on
citizens absent from Armenia, implying that it is a more intricate
process than thought by many.

He also dismissed it as a mere assumption that someone will necessarily
vote for a person absent from the country. “We don’t share such
an approach, we have no precedents and have no concerns in this
regard. At this moment, the quality of voter lists is very high,”
said the official.

http://armenianow.com/vote_2013/42954/armenia_voter_lists_numbers_presidential_election_2013

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