By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Khachatrian
First official results of Wednesday’s Armenian presidential election gave incumbent President Robert Kocharian a huge lead over his main challengers in the northwestern Shirak province and its capital Gyumri.
Early returns from 90 local precincts where more than 40,000 people cast ballots show Kocharian winning 62.5 percent of the vote. Opposition candidates Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian trailed him with 18.8 percent and 15.5 percent respectively. Another opposition contender, Aram Karapetian, came in fourth, taking about 3 percent, according to the official figures cited by the local Shant television in the early hours of Thursday.
Kocharian and his allies had earlier signaled their intention to sweep to a landslide victory in Shirak by capitalizing on recent years’ progress in the region’s reconstruction from the 1988 devastating earthquake. But their opponents there claimed that popular support for the authorities is grossly exaggerated.
Shant also cited preliminary figures from several polling stations in the southern Armavir province. According to them, Kocharian got 66 percent of about 11,000 votes counted there by midnight. Geghamian took 18 percent and Demirchian 15.8 percent.
Shortly before the publication of the first results Kocharian indicated his satisfaction with his government’s handling of the presidential ballot which he said met democratic standards. “We are happy with the course of the elections,” his campaign spokesman, Vahagn Mkrtchian, told a late-night news conference at the president’s campaign headquarters in Yerevan. “We consider them really free and fair.”
Mkrtchian refused to comment on a joint Wednesday statement by Demirchian, Geghamian, Karapetian and Vazgen Manukian which accused the authorities of falsifying the vote in Kocharian’s favor. But he did say that the election marked a big “step forward” in Armenia’s democratization despite “provocation attempts” by the opposition.
Mkrtchian declined to make any forecasts about the outcome of the race, saying only that the presidential team is in a “good mood.”