By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian told senior government officials Monday to investigate serious vote irregularities reported by international observers during the March 5 second round of the Armenian presidential election.
According to the presidential press service, Kocharian set up an ad hoc “working group” of senior officials from his staff and the Justice Ministry to look into the fraud allegations that marred the vote. “The working group has been assigned to submit a conclusion on the results of the study within a ten-day period,” it said in a statement.
The move, which is bound to be shrugged off by the Armenian opposition, came in response to strong international criticism of Kocharian’s controversial reelection. Much of that is based on the findings of a 200-strong monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe.
In their March 6 preliminary report, the observers concluded that the Armenian presidential run-off “fell short of international standards for democratic elections” due to “serious irregularities in many polling stations.” They cited “widespread” ballot box stuffing as the most common form of electoral fraud.
Speaking at his first post-election news conference last week, Kocharian admitted that there were “numerous irregularities” in the voting and counting processes, but insisted that they could not have a serious impact on the outcome of the vote. According to the Central Election Commission, the 48-year-old incumbent won 67.5 percent of the vote. His opposition challenger, Stepan Demirchian, got 32.5 percent.
The OSCE report specifically deplored “general failure by the Armenian authorities to hold accountable those responsible for irregularities in the [February 19] first round” which was also described as undemocratic by Western observers.
The authorities had instead arrested more than 200 opposition activists before the second round. Many of them got short jail sentences for “hooligan acts” allegedly committed during anti-government rallies held by Demirchian. The OSCE-led mission denounced the crackdown, saying that it was “in contravention of [Armenia’s] OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards.”