By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A weekend parliamentary by-election in central Armenia, which pitted two influential government factions against each other, was declared void on Tuesday amid continuing accusations of vote rigging traded by the rival camps.
“The election results have been invalidated,” Grigor Arshakian, chairman of the single-mandate electoral district north of Yerevan, told RFE/RL. He said the ballot will have to be rerun because the commission found too many discrepancies in the figures received from the 31 polling stations.
The preliminary results showed a candidate from parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party, Artak Sargsian, beating his main opponent, Arayik Hayrapetian, by a razor-thin majority of 32 votes. Hayrapetian represents an increasingly influential organization led by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian.
Under Armenia’s electoral legislation a repeat election is to be held within the next three weeks. The local commission has not yet set any dates for it.
Each of the rival camps said its candidate was the clear winner of the vote, accusing the other of resorting to massive falsifications. Hayrapetian’s campaign manager, Tigran Petrosiants, was unhappy with the commission’s decision.
“Two thousand ballots marked for Arayik Hayrapetian were declared invalid. His victory was prevented by the godfathers of a certain party,” he said.
But one of the Orinats Yerkir leaders, Hovannes Markarian, claimed the opposite. “If there was a recount of ballots, the margin of our victory would have been greater,” he said.
Both candidates are wealthy businessmen. They ran expensive campaigns, spending heavily on television adverts, the repair of local roads and, according to some press reports, vote bribes.
Political analysts view the race, boycotted by the Armenian opposition, primarily as a power contest between the parliament speaker and the chief prosecutor. Both men are now considered to be among President Robert Kocharian’s potential successors.
Meanwhile, an Armenian non-governmental organization that fielded observers in all polling stations of the constituency said on Tuesday that it registered numerous irregularities. The group called the Choice is Yours said both pro-establishment candidates bear an equal share of responsibility for the reported fraud.