I was prepared to witness violations I had only heard about, but the following 20 hours exceeded my expectations.
I knew that a challenging and disappointing day was waiting for me when the president of the district electoral committee politely advised me to find a place in the corner and not disturb the election process with false allegations.
It’s 7 a.m. on April 2. I am in a polling station in Nor Nork, a suburb of Yerevan. The dirty green colored walls and the squeaking sound of rotting wood floors of the nursery school, inherited from Soviet times, welcome me.
Nothing special, until eight suspicious faces start observing my identification badge, which states: Local Observer, Transparency International Anticorruption Center. The polling booths placed too closely to each other in this suburban polling station signal the first violation of the electoral code and the beginning of the 2017 parliamentary elections.
When I registered to be a citizen observer, I was prepared to witness violations I had only heard about, but the following 20 hours exceeded my expectations. I knew that a challenging and disappointing day was waiting for me when the president of the district electoral committee politely advised me to find a place in the corner and not disturb the election process with false allegations. My discontent became stronger each time the committee representative, who is the wife of a notorious parliamentarian, persistently advised all 946 voters who came to the polling station to be very careful not to mix ballot number six with ballot number nine. (Voters were given nine numbered ballots, each one representing a political party or bloc. The Republican Party’s ballot number was six).
But the violations were just a tiny piece of a bigger picture.
Voters came to the polling stations and cast their ballot with purpose. The final results are the reflection of the people’s will – a clear majority for the ruling Republican Party. The people’s will confirms that many of our citizens are not concerned with the country’s GDP which has fallen from 6.9 percent in 2008 to 3.0 percent in 2015 or unemployment rates, which have increased from 6.3 percent in 2008 to 17.4 percent in 2016.
Now we do not have the right to complain about the next five years.
This defeatist mentality was evident throughout the election campaign. Armenians need to identify the difference between personal vs public choices, and determine which one is a key priority. People came to the polling station thinking that Ով ընտրվելու է կընտրվի [The one who is going to be elected, will be elected] and with the conviction that their vote cannot make a difference. It is just a drop in the ocean. And when out of 1610 registered voters in this particular district, only 946 participated in the election, it says a lot.
The Armenian parliamentary elections of 2017 are now part of the past and we have to accept its consequences. But we need to understand how we became a nation ready to be humiliated. When did it become acceptable to kiss the hand of a notorious oligarch or praise a former government official, who resigned because of an offshore bank account scandal for the sake of a 20,000 AMD bribe?
I have a question to all those for whom the appalling mistakes of the past vanished in the presence of vain promises, those who again chose to be part of the vicious cycle instead of being the initiators of change: What about the next five years? The majority of you gave your vote for “progress and security” [the campaign slogan of the Republican Party], and now the least you can do is hold your parliament representatives accountable and demand that they fulfill their campaign promises.
You need to make a decision. Are you ready to strive for a democratic country, which is standing on strong pillars or do you want to continue to live in Armenia from where your children will migrate? The time is ripe and the moment of reckoning has come; radical changes can happen only when and if you are ready to speak up.
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