By Shakeh Avoyan and Ruzanna Khachatrian
The opposition Artarutyun (Justice) insisted on Thursday that it was the rightful winner of Sunday’s parliamentary elections which international observers said were not democratic because of significant irregularities.
Leaders of the alliance accused the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the official winner of the vote, and other parties supporting President Robert Kocharian of “stealing” votes cast in favor of the opposition. They claimed that ballot recounts conducted in recent days in polling stations across the country showed that Artarutyun won more than 50 percent of the vote, not 14 percent as was announced by the Central Election Commission (CEC).
“Wherever they held recounts they found ballots marked for Artarutyun in the stacks of votes given to other pro-government parties,” Artarutyun’s campaign manager, Stepan Zakarian, told reporters. “We have compelling evidence of disgraceful irregularities.”
The bloc, which brings together most of Armenia’s major opposition parties, had anticipated to win at least one third of the 131 parliament seats, hoping to capitalize on the popularity of its leader Stepan Demirchian. It claimed victory shortly after the closure of polls on Sunday.
However, the CEC figures put it in second place, well behind the HHK that was shown winning 24 percent of votes cast for political parties. That means Artarutyun will get up to 17 seats, nowhere near enough to threaten President Robert Kocharian whose recent reelection it does not recognize. The bloc is now considering boycotting sessions of the new National Assembly in protest against the alleged vote rigging.
The fraud allegations were given weight by a 200-strong observer mission deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe. It concluded that although the latest polls were less flawed than the recent presidential election they fell short of “international standards.” The observers singled out “serious violations” in the counting of ballots in more than 30 percent of precincts visited by them.
Artarutyun likewise alleges that number fixing and vote miscounting were the main forms of fraud. Zakarian said the bloc plans to file lawsuits to various-level courts. He complained that many opposition proxies who witnessed serious irregularities are afraid of coming forward.
The official vote results were also challenged on Thursday by the National Unity party, the only other opposition group to enter the new parliament. Its leader, Artashes Geghamian, told RFE/RL that they were “fixed very badly.” But he refused to elaborate, and it remained unclear whether National Unity recognizes the legitimacy of the elections. According to the CEC, the party won about 9 percent of the vote.
Also unhappy with the authorities’ handling of the elections are several political groups supporting Kocharian. Most of them failed to pass the 5 percent vote threshold for entering the parliament under the system of proportional representation. A recently formed bloc, led by former Prime Minister Armen Darpinian, explicitly accused the CEC of falsifying the elections.
“The published results do not correspond to reality,” the Dignity, Democracy and Fatherland bloc said in a statement.
“The elections have not lived up to our expectations in terms of democracy,” said another bloc leader, Lyudmila Harutiunian.
Darpinian, for his part, blamed the alleged fraud on unspecified “political forces” and various-level electoral bodies. But he stopped short of implicating the HHK and other pro-Kocharian heavyweights that control those commissions.
According to the preliminary CEC figures, Dignity, Democracy and Fatherland garnered only 2.8 percent of the proportional vote. The CEC and the Republicans insist that the elections were largely free and fair.