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March 17, 2008

ABA ROLI Assists Armenia in Run-up to Disputed Election

March 2008

A week after the February 19 presidential elections in Armenia, runner-up candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian contested the results and continued to raise controversy over the election of Serzh Sarkisian. Still, the elections were deemed “mostly in line with OSCE commitments and standards” by OSCE observers. Against this backdrop, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), with funding support from Counterpart International, worked to build public confidence in Armenia’s laws and institutions, and to provide an election hotline offering legal assistance in case of election-related problems and irregularities.

As with Armenia’s 2007 election, ABA ROLI instated a national, toll-free, legal assistance hotline for all Armenian citizens. The hotline dispatched a set of forty “ambulances,” each manned by a civic activist, a lawyer, a reporter and an observer, sent to follow up on calls from citizens who needed on-the-spot legal assistance on election day. 

Due to an assertive public campaign and advocacy carried out for the Hotline Initiative, the Hotline Office received 475 calls—almost 4 times as many as it received during the Parliamentary Elections of 2007. Almost 70 calls out of the overall number sought on-the-spot legal assistance and the Hotline Ambulances were sent accordingly. The remaining 405 calls involved legal consultations over the phone.

In contrast with the 2007 Elections, many more individuals were willing and ready to pursue legal solutions for alleged electoral violations this time around. The Hotline lawyers helped them file complaints to electoral commissions or the prosecutor’s office. The lawyers have decided to continue representing people in cases, as the election hotline continues to receive calls from people who are detained or who have other legal problems relating to the election. 

Another accomplishment of the Hotline Initiative was its key preventive role. At numerous polling stations, potential violations were often suppressed by the mere fact of the Ambulances’ presence. With highly recognizable yellow hats and signs, Ambulance crews stood out from the people in and around the polling stations.

Moreover, the Hotline Office was in close cooperation with various media outlets and updated its online information throughout Election Day. A number of online media announced the Hotline Office information and phone number. 

While building public confidence in the electoral process continues to be a challenge, ABA ROLI held several events before the election day that bring Armenia closer to this goal. Specifically, on January 26, 2008, a Grand Election Forum titled “Free and Fair Elections through Exercise of Law” was co-organized with the Council of Europe and an NGO network. The conference emphasized the important role of the legal system in ensuring free and fair elections.  Representatives from legal and other institutions were invited to the conference, including ambassadors, judges, advocates, prosecutors, journalists, leaders of observation missions and international organizations. Karen Andreasyan, Armenia Staff Attorney for ABA ROLI, presented the hotline concept to the Jan. 26 conference attendees, and recruited their support during election day.