By Emil Danielyan
Stepan Demirchian, the opposition contender who is due to face incumbent Robert Kocharian in the March 5 run-off, secured pledges of allegiance from more opposition leaders Friday as tens of thousands of his supporters again marched through Yerevan in a massive show of force.
Chanting “Demirchian! Demirchian!” the protesters gathered outside the office of Armenia’s prosecutor-general to demand criminal proceedings against those guilty of alleged widespread fraud that marred Wednesday’s presidential election. The protest was part of opposition efforts to keep up pressure on Kocharian who suffered a serious setback on Thursday by failing to win reelection outright.
Addressing the huge crowd before the march, Demirchian and his political allies again claimed victory in the first rounding of voting. They demanded that the Central Election Commission promptly recount the ballots and rectify reported discrepancies in its figures which the opposition leaders claim benefited Kocharian.
“Today, we are witnessing the people’s rebirth. Today we see that the people have really won,” Demirchian declared to rapturous applause. “We were saying that we will take care of the ballots cast by the people, and as you see, we are doing that together with you. We will attain our goals by legal means, in a calm manner.”
“We will establish the rule of law, we will follow the path of public solidarity and will build our country,” he added, indicating that he is confident he will be Armenia’s next president.
Demirchian also heard words of support from three more presidential candidates: Vazgen Manukian, Aram Karapetian and Ruben Avagian. The latter was rumored to have secret links with the authorities. Speaking at the rally, all three men condemned the vote as fraudulent.
“Never before have there been such disastrous elections in Armenia. All illegal methods have been used,” said Manukian. “We will stand by Stepan Demirchian and will fight to the end. What Robert Kocharian did insulted our dignity. He slapped us in the face.”
Both Manukian and Karapetian called for Kocharian’s immediate resignation, saying that he is responsible for the reported vote irregularities. “Quietly surrender power and wait for the people’s verdict,” Karapetian said in remarks addressed to the president.
The CEC has not yet published the final results of the first round. According to its preliminary results publicized on Thursday, Kocharian won just under 50 percent of the vote, failing to top the threshold required to win outright despite earlier CEC indications that he will not need a run-off. Demirchian was put in second place with about 28 percent. Another opposition candidate, Artashes Geghamian, was given 17 percent.
There was no official information about how the six other candidates fared. Manukian and Karapetian allege that they were robbed of thousands of votes.
The organizers of the rally also claimed that Demirchian got far more votes. According to Albert Bazeyan of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party, the CEC called a second round only to “placate us.” Demirchian’s campaign manager, Grigor Harutiunian, urged law-enforcement authorities to investigate “numerous election-related crimes” allegedly committed by Kocharian supporters during the voting and tabulation process.
Kocharian’s campaign chief, Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian, rejected the opposition charges of vote rigging late Thursday and said the incumbent will win the run-off.
Still, the dominant mood among the demonstrators was one of anger and triumph. “We want to put an end to these falsifications. What we need is justice,” said Garnik Mkrtchian, a pro-Demirchian student.
Hayduk Grigorian, a firefighter, voted for Geghamian, but also came to the rally to “demand a fair election.” “If there were no popular protests there would be no second round,” he said.