Decision 2013: ‘Day of Silence’ descends on Armenia ahead of presidential ballot

The last election rhetoric has been fading away, giving way to what is going to be observed as a Day of Silence on Sunday to give voting-age Armenians some time to digest the multitude of pledges before going to the polls and casting their ballots in favor of one of the seven candidates hoping to become their president.


The top contenders, including incumbent president Serzh Sargsyan and his main challengers – Heritage Party leader Raffi Hovannisian and former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan – staged their final campaign rallies and events on the last days of the four-week campaign, calling on their supporters for one last time to vote for their programs and the future of Armenia.

The three were the candidates who talked more about their programs during the electioneering period that was described by some international monitors as ‘low-key’ and with ‘limited visibility’.

Sargsyan toured around the country, meeting constituencies and calling on the nation to support his “Towards a Secure Armenia” program, while Hovannisian opted for a more personal approach, doing something that no candidate in previous Armenian elections has done.

On his frequent campaign outings in Yerevan and other towns and rural communities across Armenia the United States-born politician randomly greeted people, shaking hands with them and talking to them in the streets, shops and other public places, thus spreading his five-step plan and vision.

Bagratyan, another opposition figure in the campaign, also made a few trips to the provinces, holding meetings with people in towns and rural communities to present his 100-step program that he says is the only economically sound plan to rebuild the nation.

The campaign was marred by an assassination attempt against another opposition contender, Paruyr Hayrikyan. The Soviet-era dissident survived a shooting attack on January 31 and had to stay in hospital, recovering from a gunshot wound, through most of the rest of the campaign. Despite considering his ailment to be an ‘insurmountable obstacle’ to his campaign, Hayrikyan eventually decided not to ask the Constitutional Court to postpone the ballot for two weeks – something that he was eligible to do under the law. He later said he had chosen not to play into the hands of the “terrorists” whose primary aim in shooting him, he said, was to disrupt the electoral process in Armenia. (The candidate’s hesitation and some ‘irrational’ moves, however, led critics to suspect a deal with the government).

Another reason cited by Hayrikyan was to save an election rival, Andrias Ghukasyan, the trouble of going through an additional two weeks of hunger strike which he said would have killed the 42-year-old political analyst.

Ghukasyan, who runs a private radio station in Yerevan, embarked on an open-ended hunger strike at the start of the campaign on January 21, staging his action just outside the National Academy of Sciences building in the city center under a sign that read: “Stop Fake Elections”. The candidate, who is known for his previous civic activism, demanded that the Central Election Commission repeal the electoral registration of incumbent President Sargsyan and that international observers boycott the Armenian election. Despite experiencing some health problems during the third week of his hunger strike, the candidate refused to give it up and go to hospital, nor did he follow the example of another little-known candidate, Aram Harutyunyan, who formally withdrew his nomination on February 8.

The two other candidates whose names will appear on the ballot paper on Monday conducted mostly low-key campaigns or no campaigns at all. Arman Melikyan, who formerly served as Karabakh’s foreign minister, has, in his own words, pushed for a legitimate election putting emphasis on the accuracy of voter lists, declaring that he won’t go to the polls on February 18, nor will he recognize the outcome of the ballot.

Another maverick candidate, Vardan Sedrakyan, who had declared himself to be an expert on Armenian epic poetry well before the start of the campaign, spent most of the time giving press conferences and interviews, expressing at times controversial views on domestic and foreign policy matters, and only occasionally appearing in public. In the last few days of the campaign the candidate found himself on the receiving end of lingering suspicions of his having some kind of involvement in the attack on Hayrikyan as the two suspects arrested by the National Security Service turned out to be individuals he had hired to do some house renovation work for him in the past.

The Armenian presidential election is held according to a double-ballot system with a possibility of a runoff if none of the candidates manages to poll more than 50 percent of the vote the first time around. Such a runoff is held between the top two finishers two weeks after the first ballot.

Authorities estimate the number of eligible voters in Armenia at around 2.5 million, admittedly including between 500,000 and 700,000 citizens who are currently outside Armenia and, in accordance with the country’s current legislation, are not eligible to vote.

The highest voter turnouts observed in Armenian presidential elections were during the first and last post-independence ballots - in 1991 and 2008, when about 70 percent went to the polls. Reported turnout figures during the three presidential polls in-between fluctuated between 50 and 65 percent.

A total of 1,988 polling stations will be open across Armenia from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm on February 18 for eligible voters to come and cast their ballots. The Central Election Commission (CEC) is expected to update turnout figures several times during the day, with early results of the vote due the next morning. The preliminary report of the CEC (www.elections.am) on the ballot is due within 22 hours after polling stations close – i.e. 6 pm on February 19. The final results of the presidential election are to be announced on February 25.

A number of international and local organizations will be monitoring the Monday vote, with the largest international mission, OSCE/ODIHR, deploying 250 short-term observers on Election Day to join 13 election experts and 24 long-term observers working in Armenia during the campaign.

The mission is due to come up with a report evaluating the compliance of the Armenian election with the nation’s commitments to democracy and international standards of holding elections - an assessment that serves as a guideline for many governments and institutions in the world.