How to Identify a Corrupt Election

The election is over now. No one died (yet). Today there is an opposition demonstration in Yerevan, but it seems that the ruckus will die down until next year’s presidential election.

So, was the election a success? According to the news outlets and what I’ve heard, yes and no. It was relatively peaceful, but still several degrees removed from what we would consider a fair election in the States.

For those of you back home, I want you to close your eyes and imagine the following (okay, read it first, then close your eyes):

• You get a knock on the door the week before the election. A party representative hands you a 10,000 dram bill. That’s about $25. But wait, the GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity in Armenia is around $5,300. In America, it’s $48,300. So to an Armenian that $25 is really like one of us getting handed $225. How much is your vote worth?
• You see brand new Ukrainian tractors displayed in your town with political signs inside. The word on the street is, if the party gets enough votes the tractors will be “donated” to the community.
• You are forced to vote for the ruling party in order to keep your job.
• You go to vote with your passport and all your papers in order. You are an honest person. So, you are dismayed when the temporary ink stamp you receive on your passport after voting disappears within a few minutes. The stamp was supposed to stay visible for 12 hours.
• You are crowded into a polling place and have to deal with representatives from several different political parties meandering around. Some of them even come to blows.
• You are a student. You are not a fan of the president’s political party (which also holds the most seats in parliament). However, you are forced to attend a speech in the capital due to your teachers’ threats. You attend the rally. Suddenly, a man lights a cigarette and the decorative balloons burst into flames. They were not filled with helium but with a flammable gas. You suffer burns, just like 150 other young attendees. The president goes on to give his speech, does not say anything about the incident, and then a concert is held after his speech.
• You aren’t happy with the election. You want to attend the opposition rally held two days later in the capital. You live outside the capital in a regional town. Somehow, public transportation to the capital is canceled on the day of the rally.

Sadly, I’m not making any of this stuff up. I’ve gotten used to the behavior in Armenia. They don’t know how to form lines. Corruption is rampant. Stuff like that. But when you apply the same behavior to the election, it seems worse somehow. Or it’s just sadder to me. It’s sad because the fate of their nation is at stake. By many accounts the current administration has failed them, yet the ruling party came away with even more parliamentary seats. Why is that? Is it due to the corruption of the election process? Or did the people really want to vote for the ruling party? Maybe there was no better alternative. Regardless, I wish the election could have been cleaner. Still, change is slow and small here. There was no major violence and it was relatively clean. That will have to do as progress for now.

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