By Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian acknowledged on Wednesday that there were irregularities during the first round of the presidential election last week but said they have been grossly exaggerated by his political opponents. He also reiterated his confidence in winning the March 5 run-off with Stepan Demirchian.
“Of course, there were irregularities, but those were in favor of both the incumbent president and the opposition. And the scale of those irregularities is within the limits allowed for countries in transition,” Kocharian told a rare news conference in his official residence.
Kocharian argued that some opposition groups are represented in various-level election commissions and therefore had leverage to affect the electoral process. “This shows that the authorities are tolerant and did not use their administrative resources in order to show the opposition its place,” he said. “This also shows that the authorities have indeed opted for the path of democratization.”
The president claimed that a vote recount demanded by opposition proxies in many precincts would have brought him additional votes and spared him the need to go into a risky run-off. However, Demirchian and other opposition leaders claim that it was their anti-government protests that forced Kocharian to back away from his intention to secure a first-round reelection.
Kocharian shrugged off the speculation. In remarks addressed to his challengers, he said: “If you don’t know calculus, you could have invited specialists who would calculate the figures and show that your protests are baseless.”
Kocharian further defended recent days’ arrests of opposition activists, saying that many of them were sentenced to up to 15 days in jail for unspecified “illegal activities.” The head of an election monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressed on Tuesday concern at the arrests. Peter Eicher told RFE/RL that the authorities have not yet showed him any evidence substantiating their charges.
Kocharian also denied opposition claims that he is massing troops in and around Yerevan for a possible post-election crackdown on Demirchian supporters. “Our police forces are sufficient for enforcing law and order,” he said.
The announcement of the run-off by the CEC was a setback for the 48-year-old embattled incumbent who had for months prepared to easily win a second five-year term in office. But Kocharian put a brave face on his worse-than-expected performance, saying that he remains confident of his reelection.