By Emil Danielyan and Karine Kalantarian
Polls opened in Armenia early Wednesday for the second round of the tightly contested presidential election, with incumbent President Robert Kocharian reaffirming his pledge to prevent major irregularities. However, his opposition challenger, Stepan Demirchian, said his proxies have already reported “violations” from various regions of the country.
According to the Central Election Commission, more than 100,000 people cast ballots during the first three hours of voting.
Speaking to journalists after casting his ballot, Kocharian said that he is in an “excellent” mood and remains committed to a “free, fair and transparent” vote. “I think that if there was no second round we should have made it up,” he said, indicating his confidence in winning a second term in office.
Asked by an RFE/RL correspondent what his political opponents should do if they witness vote irregularities, he replied: “One should appeal to the prosecutor’s office in accordance with the existing rules and things will have a legal continuation.”
“The president is not a policeman,” Kocharian stressed. Still, he added that he stands ready to “contribute” to a legitimate electoral process.
Demirchian, meanwhile, sounded a note of alarm as he visited another polling station in central Yerevan. He accused the authorities of circulating thousands of ballots pre-marked in Kocharian’s favor on the night before the start of the balloting.
Two Armenian daily newspapers supporting the opposition printed photographs of hundreds of such ballots on their front pages. The paper said they send those ballots to international election observers.
Demirchian also charged that the authorities have barred scores of opposition activists from election commissions across Armenia. The leader of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) had said earlier he would cruise to a landslide victory “in the event of a free and fair election.”
Sources in the pro-Demirchian National Democratic Union (AZhM) party, which holds a seat in all election bodies, said it has failed to replace many of its “intimidated and bribed” commissioners.