By Emil Danielyan and Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian warned the Armenian opposition on Friday against challenging the official results of next month’s parliamentary elections in the streets, saying that fresh attempts to unseat him would meet with a tough government response.
Meeting with university students and professors in Yerevan, Kocharian said the Armenian authorities will do “everything in their power” to ensure the freedom and fairness of the May 12 vote. But he stressed that the country’s leading political parties, which appoint most members of various-level election commissions, are equally responsible for its proper conduct.
Kocharian claimed that opposition parties are preparing ground for allegations of massive vote rigging by making what he described as highly unrealistic assessments of their popularity. “So it is very likely that after May 12 we will see a number of news conferences, and the dissatisfied section of election contenders will definitely state that the elections were rigged,” he said.
“The danger is that after such declarations a question will arise: If somebody stole your votes, why aren’t you reclaiming your votes and what are the ways of reclaiming your votes? Perhaps one of those ways is to once again try to undermine the country’s political stability. They may test it, but there would definitely be an adequate response. Nobody should doubt that.”
Some of the opposition contenders, notably the radical Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, make no secret of their plans to use the vote for launching another campaign of street protests aimed at overthrowing the Kocharian administration. Other, more moderate opposition parties have not ruled out the possibility of joining anti-government demonstrations in the event of large-scale electoral abuse.
Kocharian already cracked down on the opposition when it last tried unsuccessfully to topple him three years ago. He said on Friday that new opposition attempts to replicate anti-government “color revolutions” that have took place in some former Soviet republics are doomed to fail also because they are opposed by the vast majority of the people. He said Armenians do not want the kind of political turmoil that has gripped two of those republics, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
“It is clear to everyone that the illegitimate way of coming to power costs countries and peoples very dearly,” said Kocharian.
The Armenian leader stated at the same time that most of his political opponents have “abandoned radical extremist agendas” and that the election campaign has been “quite tranquil and civilized” so far. He insisted that they are able to hold campaign meetings across the country without any government obstacles, rejecting claims to the contrary made by opposition leaders.
Kocharian also indicated that Armenia’s main pro-presidential parties are well placed to win a majority in the next National Assembly because of recent years’ robust economic growth and improvement in living standards which he attributed to policies pursued by his government. He specifically mentioned the governing Republican Party (HHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation as well as the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of businessman Gagik Tsarukian. The BHK is widely regarded as the brainchild and new main support base of Kocharian.
The HHK and the BHK are already facing opposition allegations of foul play. The legitimacy of the HHK’s victory in the last parliamentary elections was seriously questioned by international observers, the opposition and even Dashnaktsutyun.
“The authorities will do everything in their power to have good results in the [conduct of the] elections,” said Kocharian. “But it must also be clear that responsibility for the elections is born not only by the authorities but also political forces. Especially those political forces that form [election] commissions.”