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October 13, 2007

Rule of Law Initiative Hosts Discussion on Elections in Armenia

October 10, 2007

“I was very proud,” acknowledged Karen Andreasyan, “when I actually heard something positive being said about my country by international election observers.”   Andreasyan and countless others had much to celebrate in the days following Armenia’s 2007 Parliamentary Elections, when international observers had declared the process largely in compliance with international standards, a first in the history of independent Armenia. As the Elections Staff Attorney for the ABA Rule of Law Initiative in Armenia, Andreasyan viewed the success of the elections with both national pride and professional satisfaction.

Despite his optimism, Andreasyan concedes, “We have many problems still to face for 2008.”

Anticipating these problems and sharing lessons learned from the past, Andreasyan joined Anthony Bowyer, Program Manager for Central Asia and the Caucasus at IFES, and ABA ROLI’s Europe and Eurasia Division Director Robert Leventhal for a discussion titled Elections in Armenia: Past, Present and Future, held on September 14, 2007, at ABA ROLI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Bowyer shared Andreasyan’s circumscribed optimism for the next round. “The main area that IFES focuses on is voter registration, and there are many issues to be resolved for 2008.” He mentioned the proposed elimination of overseas voting as a possible point of contention, as well as a proposed campaign finance ceiling and the issuing of internal passports or voting cards. The latter would, he explained, decrease the prevalence of individuals voting multiple times in separate districts—a tactic Andreasyan called “carousel voting.” Such reforms will inspire strong debate in Armenia, where, as Andreasyan recounted, even the color of awareness posters can ruffle political feathers.

Andreasyan discussed ABA ROLI’s work to raise citizen awareness of electoral rights, to create an NGO Advocacy Network, and to train judges and lawyers on the Armenian electoral code. His team instated a national, toll-free, legal assistance hotline for all Armenia citizens. The hotline dispatched a set of fifteen “ambulances,” each manned by three civic activists and one lawyer, sent to follow up on calls from citizens who needed on-the-spot legal assistance on election day.

For the 2008 presidential elections, the Rule of Law Initiative plans to focus on the issue of public confidence—both in election lawyers and in the courts. Armenians’ low confidence in legal procedures means that, as Andreasyan described, in cases of reported abuse very few people are willing to bear witness in court for fear of retaliation or shaming the community. “It takes a real hero to go against the system,” Andreasyan admitted. Increasing the public’s willingness to come forward as witnesses to electoral violations remains a key objective of election reformers leading up to 2008.

In order to enhance public awareness of the importance of voting in Armenia’s presidential election of 2008, the Rule of Law Initiative will also air televised public service announcements that focus on voting issues. The latest spots in ABA ROLI’s popular Alphabet of Law animated public education series are sponsored by the United Nations Development Project (UNDP).