By Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian acknowledged on Wednesday that there were widespread irregularities in last week’s presidential run-off, but insisted that they did not affect its outcome. He also complained that Western observers, who criticized the vote as deeply flawed, were too strict in assessing Armenia’s democratic credentials.
“Yes, there were numerous irregularities. But those reflect the state of our society and political landscape,” Kocharian told a news conference.
In his first public comments since the publication of final vote results on Tuesday, Kocharian looked undaunted by the continuing opposition protests and strong international criticism of his controversial reelection. He said he will not feel constrained by it during his second five-year term in office.
“My victory was convincing,” Kocharian said. “Do not think that I could be, so to speak, a president with complexes and work with complexes. That has never been and will never be the case.”
Kocharian’s opposition challenger, Stepan Demirchian, has refused to concede his defeat, saying that the authorities falsified the two-round election in favor of the 48-year-old incumbent. Demirchian and his opposition allies have demanded new elections and vowed to keep up pressure on the authorities with a series of street protests.
Opposition allegations of vote rigging were given more weight by a joint monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe which concluded last week that the March run-off “fell short of international standards for democratic elections.”
While “regretting” the criticism, Kocharian said that the international observers can not question his legitimacy. “Unfortunately, there is a notion that someone else has to certify our election results,” he said. “Nobody should do that. We are an independent country and that independence must be respected.”
Kocharian claimed that the election marked an improvement over the previous one in 1998. International observers, he complained, simply applied stricter democratic standards this time around. The president also attacked the opposition, accusing it of damaging Armenia’s international reputation.
Both elections were judged by the OSCE as undemocratic. The most recent ballot has faced particularly strong criticism from the Council of Europe. The president of the Strasbourg-based organization's Parliamentary Assembly, Peter Schieder, has made it clear that the alleged electoral fraud "cannot remain without [international] consequences" for Yerevan.