By Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian’s influential campaign manager dismissed on Friday international observers’ criticism of the incumbent’s controversial reelection, saying that they reported irregularities only from a small part of polling stations. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian also claimed that the latest vote was more democratic than the previous ones.
It was the Armenian authorities’ first official reaction to the findings of a 200-strong monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. They concluded in a report that Wednesday’s run-off marred by “serious irregularities in many polling stations” and did not meet international standards.
But Sarkisian complained that the observers based their conclusion on irregularities registered in only 13 percent of 1,864 electoral precincts scattered around Armenia. “Unfortunately, there were quite a few cases where observers publicly thanked members of election commissions but afterwards claimed violations in their reports,” he told a news conference at Kocharian’s campaign headquarters.
The OSCE-led mission concluded that ballot box stuffing, the most common form of irregularity, was “widespread” on election day. “International observers documented and confirmed ballot stuffing in more than 40 polling stations around the country,” its report says, adding that evidence of fraud emerged in 18 other precincts during the vote count.
Sarkisian said that the OSCE/PACE report sharply contrasted with the findings of a monitoring mission from the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States because people from the former Soviet Union know Armenian “mentality and reality” better than the Westerners do. He went on to accuse the Western observers of making unlawful demands to election officials.
“If a certain observer makes some demands in violation of the law we don’t have to fulfill them,” he said without elaborating.
“I think that these elections were better organized and marked an improvement over the previous ones,” Sarkisian added. Most of the “shortcomings” that emerged during the February 19 first round of voting were addressed by the authorities in time for the run-off, he said.
The Armenian opposition holds Sarkisian personally responsible for alleged widespread fraud that marred the election. The Karabakh-born defense chief, who is seen as the country’s second most powerful man, reportedly coordinated efforts by various government agencies, political parties and business groups to ensure Kocharian’s reelection.
Kocharian, meanwhile, on Friday again avoided any public appearances. He has still not publicly commented on his landslide reelection and immediate political plans.