By Karine Kalantarian
The chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court, Gagik Harutiunian, defended on Friday its bombshell ruling on the results of last month’s presidential election which President Robert Kocharian and his allies see as indirectly endorsing opposition allegations of vote rigging.
The court has come under fierce attack from the presidential administration and its loyal media which are particularly furious with its call for a “referendum of confidence” on the legitimacy of Kocharian’s controversial reelection. In a statement late on Thursday, Kocharian bluntly rejected the idea as unconstitutional. In a related move, Armenian state prosecutors said they will not comply with a separate court order to investigate reported instances of electoral fraud.
Harutiunian dismissed the criticism, saying that his detractors did not properly examine the election judgment which turned down a lawsuit filed by Stepan Demirchian, the opposition presidential candidate. “This definitely means that the Constitutional Court rejected the plaintiff’s request to invalidate the results and confirmed the Central Election Commission’s decision,” he told a news conference.
“The Constitutional Court concluded that as a result of those elections the president of the Republic of Armenia was elected and the dispute related to the election is over,” Harutiunian added, again pointedly refusing to ascertain whether the two-round ballot was democratic and its outcome legitimate.
The chief justice stressed instead that Kocharian himself has admitted that there were numerous irregularities during the February 19 and March 5 rounds of voting. He argued that the three-week court hearing brought to light violations that “created an atmosphere of mistrust and public strife.” Hence, he went on, the need for “unconventional” ways of easing the lingering political tensions such the suggested referendum.
“Those proposals do not entail legal and judicial consequences. Those are just proposals that can or can not be taken into account by corresponding competent bodies,” Harutiunian emphasized, seeking to reassure the presidential camp.
But some top presidential loyalists say the court has only raised questions about the legitimacy of the election results which the Demirchian-led opposition refuses to accept. Kocharian’s office, for its part, expressed “surprise” at the far-reaching proposal. “President Robert Kocharian did get a vote of confidence as a result of the elections by winning 67.5 percent of the vote and is not going to accept any proposal,” it said in the statement read out by state television.
The pro-Kocharian channel followed up on it with a stinging commentary on the ruling handed down by Harutiunian and eight other judges on Wednesday. Similar comments have been made by other TV stations and newspapers.
Harutiunian indicated that he took offence from the unprecedented verbal attacks, but will not respond to them. “I said what exists in reality,” he said. “Differing interpretations of reality is another matter.”