By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s Constitutional Court upheld on Wednesday President Robert Kocharian’s victory in last month’s disputed presidential election, while endorsing some opposition allegations of vote rigging.
The court, as was widely anticipated, turned down the appeal filed by the main opposition candidate, Stepan Demirchian, who claims to have been robbed of victory. It ruled to “keep unchanged” the March 11 decision by the Central Election Commission (CEC) to declare Kocharian the winner of the two-round election.
The final results of the March 5 second round of voting issued by the CEC showed Kocharian polling 67.5 percent of the vote against Demirchian’s 32.5 percent. The latter has refused to concede defeat, accusing the authorities of falsifying the ballot.
The Constitutional Court did, however, give weight to some of the opposition leader’s claims, concluding that the official figures from some 40 polling stations across the country are “not credible” because of widespread ballot stuffing, deliberate miscount of ballots and other irregularities registered there. The court also ordered state prosecutors to launch a criminal inquiry into the instances of electoral fraud and submit its results to Armenia’s highest judicial body by May 20.
The ruling, read out by court chairman Gagik Harutiunian, did not say whether those irregularities could have affected the outcome of the vote strongly criticized by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe.
In an apparent bid to address the opposition concerns, the court further urged the authorities to amend Armenia’s electoral legislation so as to provide for “referendums of confidence” in the wake of disputed elections. The court said that could defuse post-election “public confrontations.” However, it did not specify whether such a referendum should be held with regard to the latest presidential ballot.
Demirchian and his opposition allies have held a series of anti-government rallies over the past month to demand that it be declared invalid. They have made it clear previously that they will not recognize the legitimacy of Kocharian’s reelection regardless of the Constitutional Court verdict.