By Karine Kalantarian, Shakeh Avoyan, Armen Zakarian and Atom Markarian
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) expanded its substantial lead in the parliamentary elections late Monday amid allegations of vote rigging made by the opposition and some pro-establishment parties.
The Central Election Commission announced that with about two thirds of the ballots counted, the Republicans continue to lead the race with 24.6 percent of the vote. The opposition Artarutyun (Justice) bloc remained a distant second with about 14.3 percent. Artarutyun was followed by two pro-presidential parties, Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). They had 12.1 percent and 11.1 percent respectively, the CEC said.
Another opposition group, the National Unity party of Artashes Geghamian, was shown taking 9.7 percent of the vote.
The figures were promptly rejected as a fraud by Artarutyun which had claimed victory shortly after the closure of polls on Sunday night. In a statement, the bloc denounced “blatant violations of the electoral legislation” which it said accompanied the polls. “Once again, Armenian citizens’ electoral rights have been trampled underfoot, and the elections amounted to a formal ceremony of reproducing the regime,” the statement said.
The Artarutyun campaign manager, Stepan Zakarian, blamed the alleged fraud on the HHK, saying that it falsified the results in the overnight vote count. “Our pessimistic forecasts have materialized,” he grimly told RFE/RL. “In reality, of all the pro-presidential parties the HHK has the least popular support. They definitely got fewer votes than Orinats Yerkir or Dashnaktsutyun.”
Dashnaktsutyun, which supports President Robert Kocharian, also challenged the official figures. “We have hard evidence of violations,” the party’s spokesman, Gegham Manukian, told RFE/RL. “There are serious doubts regarding the official results.”
The official preliminary outcome of the vote is a setback for Dashnaktsutyun which staked a greater claim to the Republican-controlled government in the run-up to the vote. The nationalist party, among whose top candidates is the chief of Kocharian’s staff, failed to prevail in any of the 56 single-seat constituencies and will have to content itself with only a dozen parliament seats obtained on the party list basis.
Artarutyun also fared poorly in the majoritarian districts. Only three candidates backed by or affiliated with the alliance won there. One of them, Victor Dallakian, chairs the legal affairs committee of the outgoing Armenian parliament. Two of the bloc’s leaders, Arshak Sadoyan and Shavarsh Kocharian, were defeated in their constituencies in central Yerevan.
Predictably, the HHK won about a dozen seats in the individual races, capitalizing on its extensive government and financial resources. A leading member of the party, Agriculture Minister David Zadoyan, said the HHK is happy with its performance. “Of course, we could have taken more, but this is also not bad,” he told RFE/RL.
The Republican campaign chief, Samvel Nikoyan, claimed that the voting and counting processes proceeded without “flagrant violations.” “The overall course of the elections was positive,” he said.
In addition to its proportional representation votes, Orinats Yerkir swept six single-mandate constituencies and may end up having the second largest faction in the new National Assembly. The centrist party, led by 34-year-old lawyer Artur Baghdasarian, harshly criticized the HHK-led government during its well-funded election campaign. It was not clear whether Orinats Yerkir accepts the official figures.
“We are waiting for the final results,” said one of its leaders, Sergo Yeritsian.
The opposition National Unity, accused by Artarutyun of secretly cooperating with the authorities, took a similar stance. “Comments would not be appropriate at this point,” Geghamian said.
Only one more contender, the obscure United Labor Party of millionaire businessman Gurgen Arsenian, was on track to pass the 5 percent vote barrier to entering the parliament under the proportional system. Incidentally, Arsenian lost his own majoritarian seat in southern Armenia to another businessman. Three small pro-Kocharian parties polled between 3 and 4 percent, according to the latest CEC figures.
There was no word on the results of the nationwide referendum on a package of amendments to Armenia’s constitution drafted by Kocharian. The CEC said it will begin tabulating referendum protocols from polling stations after completing the parliamentary vote count. Commission sources told RFE/RL that the amendments appear to have failed to win sufficient public support.