By Karine Kalantarian
In a widely anticipated ruling, Armenia’s Constitutional Court rejected on Monday the first of two opposition appeals against the official results of the recent presidential election.
The court chairman, Gagik Harutiunian, declared that Artashes Geghamian, a leading opposition candidate, failed to submit sufficient evidence to back up his claims that the February 19 first round of voting was riddled with widespread fraud and should therefore be declared invalid.
Geghamian’s lawyers also demanded that the panel of nine judges annul the decision by the Central Election Commission (CEC) to hold a run-off vote on March 5.
However, the court endorsed only a small part of the allegations, concluding that they could not have affected the outcome of the first round in which President Robert Kocharian got 49.8 percent of the vote to 27.4 percent polled by his main opposition challenger, Stepan Demirchian. The ruling read out by Harutiunian says the CEC took decisions contradicting Armenia’s election law and thereby contributed to “the atmosphere of mistrust” in the official vote results.
Hearings on Geghamian’s appeal began on March 14 with a major embarrassment for the CEC. Its lawyers admitted that the commission’s February decision to call the run-off vote violated a clause in the Armenian Electoral Code. Article 63 of the code stipulates that a run-off should be officially announced only if the final results of the first round show that none of the presidential candidates passed the 50 percent plus one threshold for winning outright. The CEC set a date for the second round five days before publishing the final first-round figures.
The Constitutional Court ordered the CEC last week to recount ballots in 11 polling stations where serious irregularities were reported by opposition proxies and international observers. The CEC said the recount, boycotted by Geghamian’s representatives, produced no evidence of fraud.
The Constitutional Court is also due to consider a separate appeal from the Demirchian campaign against the official results of the March 5 run-off which showed Kocharian easily winning a second term in office. Demirchian insists that the ballot was rigged in the incumbent’s favor, a charge denied by the latter.
The court will set a date on Wednesday for the start of proceedings. Three lawyers from the Council of Europe are expected to arrive in Armenia to monitor them.