The United States urged Armenia on Tuesday to investigate any credible reports of irregularities in a weekend referendum in which preliminary results showed voters approving a strengthening of the prime minister’s powers. The changes envisaged in Sunday’s referendum, which are due to come into force after elections in May 2017, would curb the role of the historically powerful president and give more authority to the Armenian prime minister and parliament. The opposition has said the changes are a ruse to let President Serzh Sarksyan take on an enhanced prime ministerial role at the head of the Republican Party after his presidential term ends in 2018. He has denied that. His supporters have said the changes are needed to prevent political instability.
Armenians voted in a referendum to boost the prime minister’s powers, results showed on Monday, a move supporters say will bolster stability but opponents warn will entrench the ruling party’s control over the ex-Soviet state. Observers from the Council of Europe rights group reported problems with the voting lists and other irregularities, and said that the low turnout suggested many voters saw Sunday’s referendum as a piece of political maneuvering. The ruling Republican party, which called the vote, said minor violations could not affect the result.
Armenians voted to curb presidential powers in a disputed referendum, official results showed Monday, but the opposition said the reforms aimed to keep President Serzh Sarkisian in power and called for protests. Around two-thirds (63 percent) backed the constitutional changes in Sunday’s referendum, with 32 percent voting against, according to preliminary results from the election commission. Turnout in the referendum stood at 51 percent. However, monitors from the Council of Europe criticised irregularities in the referendum, adding that “too many citizens” saw the reforms as “a means for the current president to remain in power”.
The vast majority of democratic countries in the world offer the right to vote to their citizens living abroad. Ireland is an exception to what is now the norm. Political rights are a central component of modern citizenship, and voting is a significant right in modern democracies and assumed to be enjoyed by all citizens, on a formally equal basis. Dismissing fears of a “hypothetical mass invasion of electors from abroad”, for instance, a 1999 Council of Europe report argued that “the issue has nothing to do with the number of people concerned, but is essentially a matter of fundamental, inalienable human rights”. The call for the introduction of voting rights for disenfranchised overseas citizens is growing louder. The Irish Government is now in danger of a case being taken against it at the European Court of Justice, challenging the restriction on voting rights and thereby forcing the State to act. Why has Ireland had such a chequered record on this issue?
Greece: Referendum Not in Line With European Standards, Council of Europe Says | Wall Street Journal
Greece’s referendum on the terms for an international bailout came under fresh scrutiny on Wednesday, after Europe’s rights watchdog said it didn’t meet European standards and journalists spotted a mistake in the translation of one of the documents at the center of the vote. “The referendum has been called on such a short notice that this in itself is a major problem,” Thorbjorn Jagland, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, said in an interview with the Associated Press. The comments were confirmed by Mr. Jagland’s spokesman, Daniel Höltgen. The warning doesn’t have any legal consequences and doesn’t provide a basis for a legal challenge in the Council’s court, the European Court of Human Rights. But it raises further doubts over the vote, which was already been questioned by European politicians and Greek opposition leaders.
European judges are set to rule on whether the rights of 1,015 serving prisoners in the UK were breached when they were prevented from voting in elections. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is due to announce its judgment regarding applications brought by people who were in jail throughout various elections between 2009 and 2011. The ruling will group together all of the long-standing prisoner voting cases against the UK that have been pending before the court. In August last year the ECHR ruled that the rights of 10 prisoners had been violated in relation to Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights – right to a free election. Judges said they reached the conclusion as the case was identical to another prisoner voting case in the UK, in which the blanket ban was deemed a breach.
Watching the Greek elections unfold from her London office left Zoe Spiliopoulou frustrated. Like thousands of expatriate Greeks she was prevented from voting in Sunday’s polls after the Athens parliament failed to pass a law in time to overturn a longstanding ban. “It is really unfair being in London. I am still interested in Greek politics. But to vote means taking time off work and buying a plane ticket back to my town, which is two hours from Athens,” said Spiliopoulou, an urban designer who has spent the last three years in the UK. “Some people I know looked and return tickets cost £300. The airlines put the prices up when they know there is an election because they know flying is the only way many people can get back to the place where they are registered. And for some people it would be a seven-hour trip from the airport to get back to vote.” … In 2010 the European court of human rights ruled in favour of two Greek nationals working at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg who were unable to vote in the 2007 Greek parliamentary elections. The Greek ambassador to France had previously rejected their application, saying there was no legislation providing for “special measures […] for the setting up of polling stations in embassies and consulates.”
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) parliamentarians will travel to Turkey next week to observe the upcoming presidential elections and provide leadership for the OSCE’s short-term observer mission, the group announced on Tuesday. The OSCE delegation, which includes more than 20 parliamentarians from 15 participating OSCE states, will be led by Asa Lindestam, chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s General Committee on Political Affairs and Security. On Aug. 10, for the first time voters will go to polling stations to elect the next president by popular vote. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, a second round will be held for the two top candidates on Aug. 24.
Ukraine: As Ukrainian Election Looms, Western Powers and Russia Campaign for Influence | New York Times
Russia and the West maneuvered on Tuesday ahead of a seemingly inevitable clash over Ukraine’s plan to hold a presidential election on May 25 that Western powers view as crucial to restoring stability and that the Kremlin says will be illegitimate, particularly if the government in Kiev cannot first stabilize the country. Senior Russian officials have repeatedly referred to the provisional government in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, as an illegitimate “junta.” From their perspective, allowing an election to go forward when no pro-Russian candidate has a real chance of winning would seriously weaken the Kremlin’s influence in Ukraine. It could also help the West coax the country out of Moscow’s orbit. Russia has made clear that it wants the election to be delayed. Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov pressed the point again on Tuesday, insisting that the interim government end bloodshed and amend the Constitution to devolve power to the regions — and that it do so before Ukrainians are asked to choose a new leader.
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) issued a report on the Georgian presidential elections held in 2013. The report also included some recommendations. PACE special commission established that the presidential elections held on October 27, 2013 “were held effectively, transparently and conducted in a peaceful and constructive atmosphere. Fundamental rights of expression, movement and assembly were protected and the candidates were able to conduct their election campaigns without restrictions. Just a year after the parliamentary elections, Georgian citizens have once again demonstrated their political maturity in a peaceful atmosphere through the election administration. These elections are an important achievement for the country and the entire South Caucasus”.
United Kingdom: Conservatives clash over European court ruling on prisoner voting rights | The Guardian
The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, was accused by former justice minister Crispin Blunt of “setting up a crisis” over human rights in Europe when the two clashed in a Westminster committee over prisoners being allowed to vote. The public clash between two prominent Conservatives over enforcing the controversial ruling by Strasbourg judges that prisoners should be allowed to vote highlights mounting political tension within the party over the UK’s fraught relationship with Europe. In response to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision, first announced in 2005, that a blanket ban on inmates being allowed to participate in elections was illegal, the government has published a multiple choice bill with three options – one of which proposes retaining the ban and defying Strasbourg. Earlier this month, Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, which oversees the ECHR, warned that if the UK, a founder member of the human rights system, refused to enforce the judgment it would weaken and deprive it of any meaning.
United Kingdom: Defying Strasbourg ruling on prisoner voting rights risks anarchy, MPs told | The Guardian
The government’s chief law officer has given his strongest warning yet to MPs that refusing to comply with European human rights rulings on prisoner voting rights risks “a degree of anarchy”. The attorney general, Dominic Grieve, said the issue of giving convicted prisoners the vote was profoundly symbolic in the British debate on European human rights laws, but that it was no slight matter for Britain to be in breach of its international obligations. He made his remarks during a Westminster hearing of a joint committee of MPs and peers who were considering a draft prisoner voting bill. The meeting also heard a strong warning from Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, which oversees the European human rights court at Strasbourg.
United Kingdom: Human rights commissioner says UK ‘should leave Council of Europe’ if it defies ruling on prisoner voting rights | theguardian.com
The UK should withdraw from the Council of Europe if it chooses to ignore pan-Europe judgments giving prisoners the right to vote, the continent’s most senior human rights official has warned. Niels Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, said British MPs could not “cherry-pick” decisions issued by the European court of human rights. His comments, published in evidence to the joint Commons and Lords parliamentary committee considering the draft voting eligibility (prisoners) bill, are likely to raise the political stakes in an already inflamed confrontation that has set British ministers at odds with the Strasbourg-based European court of human rights. The court first ruled in 2005 that a blanket ban preventing all prisoners from voting in elections was incompatible with human rights.
United Kingdom: Prisoner Disenfranchisement as a Sovereign Issue: Britain’s Conundrum | The International
After a final ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, the UK government is believed to be planning a draft bill that will introduce limited voting rights for prisoners despite widespread opposition to the move in the legislature. The announcement of the draft bill is expected to be deferred until just before a late November deadline but after the November 17 election for police commissioner. All judgements made by the European Court of Human Rights are binding and member states are expected to abide by their judgements or face penalty, usually monetary. If Britain fails to change their prisoner voting laws, they could face a fine amounting up to £150 million.
United Kingdom: Tories bow to European court of human rights over prisoner voting rights | The Guardian
The government is planning a draft bill introducing limited prisoner voting rights to comply with the European court of human rights, despite fierce opposition from Eurosceptic backbenchers. But embarrassed government ministers are likely to defer the hugely controversial announcement until just before a late-November deadline, allowing it to be made after the police commissioner elections on 17 November.
Ukraine: Council of Europe Secretary General Praises Ukraine’s Landmark Electoral Reforms | MarketWatch
The Council of Europe’s Secretary General praised Ukraine’s government for its “very ambitious” new electoral law. Thorbjorn Jagland said the new law would be “very important,” paving the way to “free and fair” elections to be held in the country on October 28th. Speaking to the press on Monday, Mr. Jagland said: “I’m very glad to see that a very ambitious plan is being implemented very well.” The Council of Europe is providing assistance to Ukraine in implementing the new electoral law, which was written with the advice of European Union officials. The electoral reforms, which were approved by 80 percent of the Ukrainian parliament last year, will be used nationally for the first time at the election in October. The new law received support not only from the governing coalition but also from the opposition party led by Yulia Tymoschenko, which also voted in favor.
Azerbaijan: Opposition considers election code. “If no amendments are made to the Code, there are calls to boycott the 2013 elections.” | Caucasus Elections Watch
The Azerbaijan Public Chamber on June 21st held a round table discussion on the proposed amendments to the Electoral Code of Azerbaijan. About 60 participants attended the public debate which was moderated by Mr. Vidadi Mirkamal, the chairman-in-office for the Coordination Council of the Public Chamber. There was one keynote speaker, Mr. Hafiz Hasanov, an elections expert, who presented his views on the general electoral environment in the country as well as his suggestions for potential amendments, generating further discussion. After the panelists spoke, several party leaders, NGO heads and experts were involved in an interactive discussion that brought forward a wide range of electoral concerns. This included the seven priority recommendations made by the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission following the 2010 Parliamentary Elections that left all major opposition parties without a single seat in the parliament.
Serbia’s ruling Democratic Party asked local and foreign watchdogs to step up scrutiny of the presidential runoff vote after the opposition claimed election fraud during May 6 balloting. The party, led by incumbent President Boris Tadic, urged the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy to deploy more observers during the May 20 second round between Tadic and Tomislav Nikolic, the leader of the opposition Serbian Progressive Party. “It is in our deep interest that we have fair and regular elections and that the legitimacy of elected institutions is not in question,” the Democrats said in the e-mailed statement. The outcome of the presidential elections may determine whether Serbia keeps striving for European Union membership under Tadic or turns east for political and economic ties under Nikolic’s leadership. Tadic won the first round, while his party finished second in a concurrent parliamentary race, giving it six seats less than the Progressive Party’s 73 in the 250-member assembly. The Progressive Party claimed vote rigging on May 10, a day after the second-place Democrats and the third-ranking Socialist Party of former strongman Slobodan Milosevic agreed to stay in a coalition, leaving Nikolic’s party in opposition.
Armenia: Local and international observers get ready to monitor parliamentary election | ArmeniaNow.com
Seven international and 47 local organizations will carry out an observation mission at the May 6 parliamentary elections in Armenia. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe’s (PACE), the Inter-parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the European Parliament, the CIS Observation Mission and the International Expert Center for Electoral Systems (ICES) are among the international organizations.
A top European anti-corruption body wants the U.S. to increase transparency of political funding through outside groups that donate millions to support candidates, warning that they could be used to skirt long-established disclosure rules. The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption — known as Greco and which counts the U.S. as a member — warns “soft money” political financing vehicles appear to be increasing in America. The highly technical, 39-page report was approved by the Council of Europe’s plenary session last month, but was not previously made public. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report on Thursday. Greco officials then posted it online. (Links to the report: Theme I / Theme II)
Because of a failure to address wide disparity between single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies resulting in unequal weight of each vote, Georgia’s “new election system is not fully in line with European standards,” two co-rapporteurs from Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said in their report to the PACE’s monitoring committee. The information note, which has been drawn up mainly based on co-rapporteurs’ fact-finding visit to Georgia in October, was released on January 26 and focuses on administration of justice and election-related issues. Kastriot Islami and Michael Jensen, co-rapporteurs on honouring obligations by Georgia, welcome in the report the Georgian authorities’ decision to adopt new election code, as well as addressing in the new code a number of recommendations made by the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs Venice Commission. The report, however, notes it was “regrettable that no consensus could be reached on the new election code and especially on the election system by which the new parliament is to be elected.”
Council of Europe election observers have said that Russia needs real political change following the country’s disputed general election. Thousands gathered on Saturday for an anti-Putin protest outside the Kremlin. Speaking ahead of a presentation of its final report in Strasbourg on Monday, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly delegation said Russia needs real political change, not a “survival mechanism” for the current regime. The group, which observed last month’s controversial parliamentary elections, was speaking in Moscow as thousands gathered near the Kremlin to demand fair presidential elections on March 4.
Thousands of pro-democracy activists demonstrated in Morocco’s largest city calling for a boycott of parliamentary elections less than two weeks away. The demonstrations comes as a parliamentary delegation from the Council of Europe noted there was little enthusiasm in the country just two weeks before the election and said there was worry about the level of participation.
“I’m boycotting, how about you?” said stickers carried by many of the activists as they marched through a working class district in Casablanca. Morocco’s parliamentary elections will be held early as part of a government-initiated reform process in the North African kingdom, which is a close U.S. ally.
Tunisia: Election feat sets high bar for Arab Spring nations lacking its rigor and enthusiasm | The Washington Post
No matter what the results, Tunisia’s landmark election was a monumental achievement in democracy that will be a tough act to follow in elections next month in Egypt and Morocco — and later, in Libya. In just five months, an independent Tunisian commission organized the first free elections in this North African nation’s history. The ballot attracted 80 parties offering candidates, drew a massive turnout by impassioned voters and was effusively praised by international observers.
“I have observed 59 elections in the last 15 years, many of them in old democracies … and never have I seen a country able to realize such an election in a fair, free and dignified way,” said Andreas Gross, a Swiss parliamentarian and the head of the observer delegation for the Council of Europe. “I was elected in Switzerland on the same day in elections that were not much better than here.”
Bulgarian nationalist leader Volen Siderov has called for a nationwide recount of the results of the October 23 presidential and local elections. Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, he presented photos showing ballot bags with ballots falling out.
Demanding a recount in which individual ballots would be counted one-by-one, the leader of the nationalist Ataka party urged all members of electoral commissions and party-affiliated observers to come clean and present facts as they stand.
Siderov suggested that all representatives of all political parties which had participated in organizing and staging the elections, all media outlets and representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) should gather in one hall and start the recount. In his words, the step would reveal the manipulations of the election results.
Ukraine: Draft parliamentary election law can be made fairer, say ODIHR and the Venice Commission | ODHIR
Ukraine’s draft law on parliamentary elections could go further to ensure fully democratic elections, says a joint opinion by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.
While the draft law incorporates a number of recommendations previously made by ODIHR and the Venice Commission, the joint opinion notes that the choice of a mixed majority-proportional representation system, the threshold the draft law sets for securing places in parliament, and the ban it establishes on electoral blocs were introduced by the parliamentary majority, and without consultation with other political parties and civil society.
Armenia’s next parliamentary and presidential elections will be “unprecedented” in terms of their transparency, Garegin Azarian, the chairman of the Central Election Commission, said on Tuesday. Azarian said the integrity of the electoral process in the country will improve markedly already during the parliamentary race scheduled for next spring.
“The openness of these elections will be unprecedented compared with previous elections,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service in an interview. Azarian based his stated optimism on fresh amendments to the Electoral Code that were enacted by the Armenian authorities in May. He singled out a new provision that requires the CEC to publicize every hour data on voter turnout from all of Armenia’s 2,000 or so polling stations.
In an unprecedented statement, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle lamented yesterday (19 July) the failures of the Albanian electoral system, urging the EU hopeful to undertake deep parliamentary reform.
Ashton and Füle lamented the fallout from the recent mayoral vote in Tirana and used simple and unusual wording to convey the message that the electoral system in Albania needs “urgent” and “thorough” reform. “The elections in Tirana were not good as they demonstrated beyond doubt that the electoral framework needs to be reformed,” the top EU officials stated.
Russia denied registration of a key opposition political party Wednesday, effectively barring it from upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections that the Kremlin had hinted might be open to some competition.
The refusal signals the government plans to tightly manage the elections, critics said, despite avowals from President Dmitry Medvedev that he would like to see some opening up of Russia’s political life.
“This is an announcement that there will be no elections, because there will be no opposition parties,” said Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the People’s Freedom Party, which was cobbled together by four prominent Kremlin critics in December. “The decision comes from the very top.”
Turkey’s well-managed, democratic elections demonstrated pluralism but also showed a need for improvements on fundamental freedoms, according to international election observers from the Parliamentary Assemblies of the OSCE and Council of Europe.
“To fully live up to its democratic commitments, Turkey must do more than run efficient professional elections on the day of the vote,” said Pia Christmas-Moeller (Denmark), head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation.
“The ten per cent threshold, by far the highest in Europe, remains a central issue in these elections,” said Kerstin Lundgren (Sweden), head of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe delegation.