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Need for unbiased formation of PECs ahead of referendum

(March 7, 2020)


Before the approval of the composition of precinct electoral commissions of the constitutional referendum, ″Independent Observer″ Alliance received alarms stating that in the process of the examination of commission members, ″parallel examinations″ were conducted, during which credentials were also given to ″acquaintances″ of precinct electoral commission members. Later, certain persons willing to be included in precinct electoral commissions alarmed that precinct electoral commissions had informed them that the commissions’ positions had already been filled and there was no opportunity to be included. 

However, we could see 42 vacant positions on the list of commissions on the website of central electoral commission, and at least 121 cases when the same person was appointed in the composition of commissions more than once. Moreover, in some cases, the same person was appointed by both ″NO″ and ″Yes″, or by one of the sides and district electoral commission, or even by the same or different district electoral commissions in different precincts. 

This issue may be technical, however, it still comes to prove that there should be a unifiied unbiased approach to the formation of precinct electoral commissions, giving preference to standing commissioners. 

Taking into consideration the alarms, the ″Independent Observer″ will separately touch upon the statistical data on persons included in Constitutional Referendum precinct electoral commissions from different factions of the National Assembly of the previous convocation, since the formation and activity of commissions considered reliable by public (which is already under doubt) is an important issue of the legitimacy of electoral processes.

According to Article 15 of the RA Law ″On referendum″, first applied on April 5, 2020, ″YES″ and ″NO″ campaign sides each have the right to appoint 2 members in the referendum precinct electoral commissions, and the district electoral commission has the right to appoint 3 members. The vacant positions are filled by district electoral commissions in a manner prescribed by the RA Electoral Code.

Though the RA Law ″On referendum″ does not regulate this issue in any way, the inclusion of members in district electoral commissions was made by a party for or against the referendum or their supporting parties, which was, essentially, perceived as official support of that side.   

8470 out of 14000 members appointed in the referendum precinct electoral commissions were included by NA former factions in the commissions of NA snap elections held on December 9, 2018.  Appointment of former precinct commission members by ″YES″, ″NO″ or district electoral commissions is perceived by public as preparation of favourable conditions for electoral fraud. Previously widespread electoral violations, which were mainly made in the knowledge of commission members, and the lack of proper investigation into the electoral fraud have factually created a situation, where appointment of former commission members is legal from legal point of view, except for cases where those persons were recognized guilty of electoral crimes, were deprived of the right of suffrage and are ex officio deprived of the right to be included in the commission.  Nevertheless, on the level of public perception, these appointments and their non-transparent process reduce public trust in electoral administration. In this situation, it is twice as important that the Central Electoral Commission and district electoral commissions organize the process of the referendum more properly and publicize clarifications regarding appointments that generate concerns. 

The logic of electoral reforms and building public trust in electoral processes should include radical changes of electoral administration that will secure professional independent activity of electoral commissions by providing impartial activity of bodies conducting electoral administration.  

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