By Emil Danielyan
First preliminary results of the Armenia’s presidential run-off gave incumbent Robert Kocharian late Thursday an enormous lead over his opposition challenger Stepan Demirchian whose supporters accused the authorities of massive electoral fraud. The official figures effectively predetermined the outcome of the presidential race which is unlikely to be recognized by the Armenian opposition.
The Central Election Commission said that with about a third of over 1.5 million ballots counted, Kocharian won 69.6 percent of the vote, while Demirchian only 30.4 percent. The figures are based on early returns from the overwhelming majority of 56 electoral districts scattered around Armenia.
They were immediately rejected as fraudulent by Demirchian’s campaign chiefs who claimed that their proxies were forced out of many polling stations after their closure at 8 p.m. local time and could not monitor the counting process. “All this is an unhidden attempt by Robert Kocharian’s illegitimate regime to seize power,” one of them, Vartan Poghosian, said at a late-night news conference. “All this has nothing to do with the real results of the election.”
Demirchian’s campaign manager, Grigor Harutiunian, claimed that in many polling stations where the opposition candidate took a lead government-controlled election commissions stopped the vote count or refused to formalize its results in protocols. He said in many other precincts the authorities resorted to various “dirty tricks” to oust Demirchian proxies and falsify the results.
“We believe that these elections have not been free and fair regardless of their outcome,” Harutiunian said. “We believe that our candidate was the rightful winner because hundreds of thousands of ballots were stuffed for Kocharian.”
The Demirchian aides said that the nearly 63 percent voter turnout reported by the CEC is grossly inflated and that according to information received from their proxies, only 1.1 million Armenian citizens took part in the voting. They claimed that the resulting discrepancy of 400,000 votes was used by the authorities for fixing the outcome.
The Demirchian campaign reaffirmed plans to hold an anti-government in Yerevan on Thursday to protest the vote results. But it did not specify its further actions. “Robert Kocharian will bear responsibility for all subsequent developments,” warned Stepan Zakarian, a senior member of Demirchian’s People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK).
Demirchian, in the meantime, was meeting behind closed doors with one of his main opposition allies, former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian.
There was no immediate reaction to the CEC results from Kocharian’s campaign headquarters.
Their publication coincided with a government announcement that the Armenian Police have arrested several individuals on charges of involvement in last December’s assassination of the head of the state-run Armenian Public Television and Radio, Tigran Naghdalian. The Kocharian-controlled TV channel declared that the investigators have thus “solved the murder” and that its perpetrator is among the arrested.
However, the authorities refused to identify any of them, saying only that the police are now hunting for several other unnamed individuals allegedly involved in the killing. Some opposition sources fear that the unexpected development could be a prelude to a post-election government crackdown on the opposition.