Observation of the referendum on the new constitution in Armenia

A cross-party delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) was present in Armenia from 4 to 7 December 2015 to observe the referendum on constitutional reforms which took place on 6 December and led to a new constitution.

After a somewhat low-key campaign with little public debate and a calm referendum day, according to preliminary results, around 64% of those who voted did so in favour of the changes, thus meeting the quorum of 25% of the registered voters needed to approve the changes.

The relatively low turn-out, around 50% of the population, reflects the fact that the referendum was driven by political interests instead of the needs of the Armenian public and was perceived by many citizens as a vote of confidence in the government rather than on the many proposals for change. The two-and-a-half-year reform process was not inclusive enough, the parliament having only a few weeks to discuss the text and public debate being limited to two months, making it difficult for an agreement to be reached. Thus, the core of the constitutional change - the shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system - was understood by too many citizens as being a means for the current president to remain in power after the end of his second (and what would have been final) term.

Concerning the voting process, the delegation regrets that the authorities were not more concerned by the integrity of the process leading to a new constitution and that it must mention several problems, many of them already mentioned in previous PACE, Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR recommendations:

• the inaccuracy of the voting lists containing the names of many people residing permanently abroad or even deceased, leading to claims that these identities were usurped by people who then voted several times;
• allegations of large-scale organized vote buying and carousel voting as well as pressure on voters;
• the media playing field was once again not a level one and the political parties were not able to fulfil their duties of informing and motivating the public;
• the misuse of administrative resources by executive bodies;
• allegations of pressure on, and attempts to corrupt, election officials;
• shortcomings in the training of precinct election officials, particularly during counting;
• the lack of mobile voting effectively excluded disabled citizens from the process.

The delegation urges the authorities to address these issues in order to build trust in the voting process and in politics in general to ensure a genuinely democratic future for Armenia.

While in Armenia, the delegation met leaders and representatives of parliamentary groups and parties, the Chairperson of the CEC, representatives of civil society and the media as well as OSCE/ODIHR experts.

Members of the delegation:
Andreas Gross (Switzerland, SOC), head of delegation
Doris Fiala (Switzerland, ALDE)
Alan Meale (United Kingdom, SOC), rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee