The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) is scrambling to deny accusations that it is using schools to leverage votes for the upcoming parliamentary election.
The Union of Informed Citizens (UIC) on Friday published a list of 136 schools and kindergartens it says are actively recruiting, registering and even coercing parents to vote for the RPA. The list includes 103 schools and 33 kindergartens from Yerevan and other parts of the country.
At a press conference, Daniel Ioannisyan of UIC said that they had called the principals claiming to be from the central campaign office of the RPA, asking several questions. Among them was the issue of lists that principals were preparing of parents, teachers and members of the school administration who had pledged to vote for the RPA. According to Ioannisyan, about 80 percent of the principals admitted they had prepared the lists. The conversations were recorded and also released in the statement.
Astghik Avetisyan, the principal of a secondary school in Gyumri said that her list contained 1700 names that were ‘checked a thousand times,’ and that they had implemented several methods, including coercion, to ensure their veracity.
Below is a sampling of the published records [available only in Armenian].
The practice of using state institutions, agencies and bodies, including educational institutions to ensure votes is not new in Armenia. While it is a commonly held belief that such measures are implemented, this is the first time that a comprehensive list with names and recordings admitting to the practice has been made public.
As the news spread like fire on social networks, the RPA was quick to issue a statement.
In the statement, the RPA admits that school and kindergarten principals put together lists for them, however, they do not consider this to be against the law and claimed that the publication of the recordings is a “provocation” on the part of UIC.
The statement reads:
“In response to the information being disseminated by a number of media outlets that certain principals who are members of the Republican party utilized administrative resources, we note the following:
1. Working with voters assumes recruitment, registration, mobilization and identification of potential electors
2. The electoral law does not forbid citizens of the Republic of Armenia from taking part in the activities of the organization of the campaign outside of working hours or responsibilities.
3. A thorough examination of a significant part of the recordings does not provide grounds that there has been any violation of the Electoral Code of Armenia.
4. We regret that this organization [referring to UIC, Ed.] that has taken upon itself the honest and fair election mission has resorted to politically dishonest behavior.
We consider the provocative attempt to discredit citizens of the Republic of Armenia as unacceptable, regardless of their political affiliation and beliefs.”
The ORO Bloc also made an announcement regarding the release of the recordings saying that they will be applying to the Central Electoral Commission to revoke the RPA’s right from running in the April 2 parliamentary election.
This election campaign has been marred by several incidents of violence throughout the country in the last several weeks. Another recording, released on March 22, revealed how the campaign of Republican Artak Sargsyan is offering upwards of 20,000 AMD (approximately $40 US) per voter per household.