By Astghik Bedevian
An Armenian election official who has publicly admitted his involvement in the alleged falsification of the 2003 presidential election and the recent constitutional referendum was questioned by police for several hours on Tuesday.
Spartak Yeghiazarian, chairman of the electoral commission in Oshakan, a big village in the central Aragatsotn region, told RFE/RL that the “prophylactic conversation” was personally led by the chief of Aragatsotn Police Service. He said he was also summoned to the Aragatsotn prosecutor’s office for questioning at the weekend.
Yeghiazarian caused a stir on Friday when he told a news conference in Yerevan that he and his colleagues forged voter signatures and stuffed ballots to help President Robert Kocharian get reelected in 2003 and enact his constitutional amendments. He claimed that Kocharian polled only 12 percent of the vote in Oshakan, and not 60 percent as was shown in the official vote protocols.
The official also said only 60 residents of Oshakan took part in the November 27 referendum on Kocharian’s amendments to Armenia’s constitution. “And yet we ‘painted’ 1,649 ‘yes’ votes,” he added. Yeghiazarian further claimed that he has offered law-enforcement bodies to prosecute him for what is a serious crime under Armenian law but was turned away by them.
Yeghiazarian appeared more circumspect on Tuesday, declining to answer phone calls and agreeing to be interviewed only after running into an RFE/RL correspondent on the street. He said the Armenian police chief was wondering whether he implicated law-enforcement officials in vote rigging during his news conference.
“Our so-called governor told them that I said at my news conference that police were also involved,” Yeghiazarian said. “I made no such statements. The law-enforcement agencies did not meddle in elections. I had no [vote-rigging] orders from the police, the prosecutor’s office and the National Security Service.”
“None of them has used force against me until now,” added the election commission chairman.
Armenia’s two main opposition groups were quick to seize upon Yeghiazarian’s extraordinary confession on Friday, saying that it only confirmed their claims that both the presidential election and the referendum were rigged by the authorities. The latter insist that irregularities reported during the polls were not serious enough to affect their outcomes.
Meanwhile, a senior lawmaker representing the governing coalition, Armen Rustamian, warned that Armenia could face the kind of international sanctions that have just been imposed on Belarus if its next parliamentary and presidential elections are also deemed undemocratic by the West. “There can be no exceptions on this issue as democracy is based on free and fair elections,” Rustamian told RFE/RL. “We must therefore hold the elections of 2007 and 2008 in line with those standards.”
(Photolur photo: Hayk Harutiunian pictured with President Robert Kocharian during Sunday's celeberation of Armenia's Police Day.)