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By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s main opposition alliance claimed victory early on Monday in the previous day’s parliamentary elections, but warned that massive fraud in the overnight vote count could radically distort their outcome.

The Justice bloc, led by former presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian, made the upbeat statement before the announcement of first official results of the vote. The Central Election Commission (CEC) is legally bound to release its preliminary nationwide tally within 12 hours of the closure of polls.

“According to our information, Artarutyun is in first place and is moving towards a decisive victory,” the bloc’s campaign manager, Stepan Zakarian, declared at a late-night news conference.

Zakarian and other Artarutyun leaders cited what they said are the results from over a dozen polling stations across Armenia sent by their proxies. According to Albert Bazeyan, the opposition group is leading by a big margin. He said the lead is particularly substantial in Yerevan.

There was no immediate reaction to the claims from other major parties. The campaign chief of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Galust Sahakian, said the HHK still has no information about its performance in the proportional representation voting and single-mandate constituencies. Representatives of two other top contenders, the Orinats Yekir party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also said that it is too early for them to comment. All three parties support President Robert Kocharian.

The Artarutyun leaders, meanwhile, presented a long list of irregularities which they said were registered during Sunday’s voting. They were particularly concerned about the extent of alleged vote buying reported by many candidates throughout the day. They also made it clear that the opposition’s overall assessment of the elections and their legitimacy will depend on the fairness of the counting process.

“We are worried that the same might happen again and they will fix the numbers overnight and present totally different results,” Zakarian said.

Artarutyun draws much of its strength from the popularity of Demirchian which enabled him to make a strong showing in this year’s presidential election. Demirchian maintains that he was the rightful winner of the ballot.

Artarutyun, which brings together the vast majority of Armenia’s major opposition groups, said throughout the election campaign that it is seeking to win at least a third of the 131 parliament seats and possibly their overall majority. Demirchian said on Sunday that the bloc will win the elections if they are largely democratic.

The pro-Kocharian forces, for their part, remain confident that they will retain control of the National Assembly.
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