If you are in a hurry: Brief overview
- The Independent Observer Alliance received information from three sources that the head of Spitak community, Kajair Nikoghosyan, had meetings with the heads of the administrative units of the enlarged Spitak community and instructed to urge citizens connected to their community but registered in Yerevan to vote for Tigran Avinyan and the Civil Contract Party in local elections in Yerevan. Sample forms were shared with them
- The representative of the Fact Investigation Platform called the heads of administrative units of Spitak enlarged community and the deputy head of community, introduced himself as an assistant to an MP from the Civil Contract Party and collected evidence that they are systematically working in the community and collecting votes for the candidate from the Civil Contract Party.
- Some of the heads of administrative units reported that they were not aware or refused to give information over the phone.
- Some of the leaders of administrative units refused to carry out “punitive actions” against those who refused to vote for Avinyan.
- The Independent Observer Alliance has information about similar processes in Alaverdi, Tashir, Gulagarak, Vedi and Masis communities.
The Independent Observer Alliance received information from three sources that the head of Spitak community, Kajair Nikoghosyan, had meetings with the heads of the administrative units of the enlarged Spitak community and instructed to urge citizens connected to their community but registered in Yerevan to vote for Tigran Avinyan and the Civil Contract Party in local elections in Yerevan. According to sources, it has been instructed and coordinated by the Vice-Chairman of the Board of the Civil Contract Party, MP Gevorg Papoyan. For the purposes of making voter lists, heads of administrative units were provided with sample forms that were made available to the Independent Observer Alliance.
One could make various assumptions from the above-mentioned information, and considering the non-public nature of this “campaign” by the Civil Contract Party, it was not possible to verify these assumptions either by researching open sources or within the framework of the Law on the Freedom of Information.
In order to understand the nature of the violation, it is important to evaluate whether the community staff was involved in this process through abuse of office and coercion, or only out of party solidarity. Did the process of recruiting voters involve only lawful campaign tricks, or were there threats or promises that could contain elements of a criminal offense? In other words, the hypotheses of misuse of administrative resources or party propaganda and use of exhortation or threat was to be evaluated.
In order to check these hypotheses, the representative of Fact Investigation Platform, a partner of the Independent Observer Alliance, called heads of 15 out of 20 settlements of Spitak community (heads of villages included in the enlarged community, who are appointed by the head of the community) and the deputy head of the community Hovik Hovhannisyan, introduced himself as Gevorg Papoyan’s assistant or a representative of the office of the Civil Contract Party and asked questions about the voter lists. Five of the heads of administrative units did not answer the calls.
Three of the heads of administrative units indicated that they did not know what was being referred to, and one of them said that although he was not unaware, he would not discuss the matter with a stranger over the phone until he spoke with the community leader. The rest were in no way surprised that Gevorg Papoyan’s “assistant” was calling them with this matter.
At least six of them (heads of Saralanj, Mets Parni, Tsaghkaber, Jrashen, Katnajur, Lernavan villages) said that they already have or will soon have family-voter lists of 10 to 15 voters each, who have assured that they will vote in favor of Avinyan. Two of them mentioned that they are going to go to Yerevan for this purpose in the next few days, and asked our correspondent, who introduced himself as representing the Civil Contract Party, to call after their visit.
Although the total number of potential voters mentioned by the heads of administrative units was about a hundred, the deputy head of the Spitak community Hovhannisyan claimed during the call that he expects a guaranteed vote of about 1000 voters.
From the conversation with the latter (which in this case was carried out on behalf of the “employee of the central office of the Civil Contract Party”), it also becomes clear that the instruction to the head of the community was indeed given by the Vice-Chairman of the Board of the party, Gevorg Papoyan, which was conveyed to the deputy head and administrative leaders, (who are Spitak community servants) through the community leader Kajayr Nikoghosyan.
The recordings also show that heads of administrative units made these lists in their workplaces. Thus, for example, head of Tsaghkaber village Aram Igityan said: “Brother, I am at home now, the list is at my workplace.”
No threats to voters were found
At the same time, it should be noted that the conversations indicate that the engagement with the voters did not contain any threat, blackmail, or any other action that constitutes a criminal offense. Both the administrative leaders and the deputy head of the community stated that they are simply urging their close ones and relatives to vote for Tigran Avinyan, explaining the importance of that vote. Moreover, they sometimes used the word “ask”, meaning that they are merely getting informed about the already made decision to vote for Avinyan. In response to questions about the use of threats, promises, and other dishonest methods to get votes, the interlocutors generally ruled out such a possibility.
To the question whether the voter is told that he will have a problem if he votes differently, Deputy Mayor Hovhannisyan answers: “How can I tell the voter you will have a problem? What does ‘you will have a problem’ mean?”
The only exception to this rule seems to be the head of the Jrashen settlement, who, after presenting the work he has done, also suggested/asked about the advisability of involving university professors, without clarifying what he means.
It should be noted that the Independent Observer Alliance has reliable information from third parties about similar voter registration processes by administrative leaders in Alaverdi, Tashir, Gulagarak, Vedi and Masis communities.
In essence, the described act corresponds to Clause 2 of Article 40.8 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, namely: “Using administrative resources for election or referendum campaign purposes, including those provided for the performance of official duties… information media… and the use of human resources, … as well as the misuse of office to gain an advantage during elections.”
The misuse of administrative resources is one of the most frequently committed electoral offenses, but the legal wordings allow to refer to them only as abstract phenomena, and in more specific cases, proceedings are not initiated.
Moreover, the above-mentioned provision of the Code on Administrative Offenses, which prescribes punishment for such acts, does not specify that the act must be performed during the pre-election campaign period, as it is clear that misuse of administrative resources often (as in this case) starts much earlier.