By Emil Danielyan
Armenian authorities faced on Friday more international criticism of their handling of this week’s controversial presidential election, with the United States saying it is “deeply disappointed” by serious vote irregularities reported by observers from the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
Meanwhile, senior Council of Europe officials promised unspecified “consequences” for that they see as Yerevan’s failure to meet one of its key commitments to the prestigious Strasbourg-based organization.
“Armenia’s leadership missed an important opportunity to advance democratization by holding a credible election,” the U.S. State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said in a statement circulated Friday by the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan. “We call on the Government to get on the road to building a democratic Armenia, beginning with a full and transparent investigation of election irregularities, accountability for those responsible, and other steps to restore public confidence.”
Boucher said Washington agrees with the international observers’ conclusion that Wednesday’s presidential run-off fell short of international standards. His statement cited “ballot box stuffing, ‘carousel’ voting at multiple polling stations, inappropriate military voting, the intimidation, absence or expulsion of opposition proxies.”
According to the official results of the vote, incumbent President Robert Kocharian won a second term in office with 62.5 percent of the vote. His opposition challenger Stepan Demirchian, who got 32.5 percent, refused to recognize his defeat and demanded that the authorities invalidate Kocharian’s victory.
The State Department statement was read out by opposition leaders to thousands of Demirchian supporters that rallied in Yerevan on Friday afternoon. The protesters’ reaction was enthusiastic.
Boucher mentioned only two “positive” developments during the Armenian presidential race: the live televised debate between the two contenders and the presence of local observers in more than 50 percent of polling stations. He also called on the Armenian opposition to pursue its election grievances only through “legal procedures and peaceful protest.”
The Armenian government declined an immediate comment on the strongly-worded U.S. criticism. “At this point we do not find it expedient to comment on a single statement,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghajanian told RFE/RL. She said the ministry will make a statement after hearing the opinion of more foreign nations and international organizations.
In a further embarrassment for the Kocharian administration, the two most high-ranking officials at the Council of Europe jointly denounced the conduct of the run-off. "Following serious irregularities reported after the first round, we made a series of requests to ensure better conduct of the second round. We very much regret that these requests were not met,” the president of the council’s Parliamentary Assembly, Peter Schieder, said in a statement.
“The full extent of responsibility for, and the impact of, the irregularities are yet to be determined, but it is already clear that they cannot remain without consequences. The issue will be raised in forthcoming meetings at parliamentary and ministerial level,” Schieder warned.
The statement also quoted the Council of Europe secretary general, Walter Schwimmer, as urging the authorities to “carefully examine electoral complaints and appeals in a transparent and credible manner.”