By Ruzanna Stepanian, Astghik Bedevian, and Emil Danielyan
Preliminary official results of Saturday’s legislative elections gave a landslide victory to the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and showed only two opposition parties winning a handful of seats in parliament.
The Orinats Yerkir and Zharangutyun parties rejected the election outcome as fraudulent and pledged to challenge it in court.
With all ballots cast counted and tabulated by Sunday evening, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said the HHK won 33.8 percent of the vote. The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of businessman Gagik Tsarukian came in a distant second with 15.1 percent, followed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) which had 13.1 percent. All three parties are loyal to President Robert Kocharian.
The percentage figures apply to the system of proportional representation under which 90 of the 131 seats in the National Assembly were contested. The HHK reportedly grabbed many of the remaining 41 seats distributed in single-member constituencies on the first-past-the-post basis.
One of the party’s leaders, outgoing parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, said the Republicans will directly hold 65 seats and enjoy the backing of non-partisan government-connected deputies. “I think it can already be said that the Republican Party will have an absolute majority in the new parliament,” he told RFE/RL.
Torosian would not be drawn on whether his party is ready to form a new coalition government with Dashnaktsutyun or the BHK. He said a decision will be made “shortly after final election results are announced.”
The BHK, which clearly intended to do better in the polls, made no statements on Sunday. “Right now the party is comparing its data with those of the CEC,” its chief spokesman, Baghdasarian Mherian, told RFE/RL. He refused to say whether Tsarukian’s party is satisfied with its performance.
The BHK claims to have more than 400,000 members, or more than all other Armenian parties put together. The CEC said it won only 204,000 votes, raising more questions about the credibility of the membership figure.
Dashnaktsutyun also made no statements. Its leaders could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Of all opposition parties former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir made the strongest showing. The preliminary CEC data showed it garnering only 6.8 percent of the vote, much less than it did in the last elections and well below the party’s expectations.
In a statement released on Sunday, the Orinats Yerkir leadership refused to recognize the official results, alleging “large-scale falsifications.” A spokesman said the party will file an appeal to the Constitutional Court.
Also clearing the 5 percent vote threshold for entering the legislature under the proportional system was the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party of the U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian. It got 6 percent of the vote, according to the CEC.
The party looked set to make a much stronger showing shortly after the start of the vote count on Saturday night. Early results from polling stations across Yerevan put it in second place behind the Republicans. Hovannisian and other Zharangutyun leaders did not immediately react to the nationwide vote tally.
A top Zharangutyun figure, Vartan Khachatrian, alleged that the party polled three times more votes than were reported by the government-controlled CEC. He said it too will dispute the official results in the court.
Torosian shrugged off the fraud allegations, pointing to the vote’s largely positive assessment by Western observers. “It is obvious that these elections were really unprecedented for Armenia and, as international observers concluded, largely met international standards,” he said.
The biggest losers were two other opposition parties led by Kocharian’s main challengers in the last presidential election, Artashes Geghamian and Stepan Demirchian. Their National Unity and People’s parties got only 3.7 percent and 1.7 percent of the vote respectively.
The People’s Party (HZhK) denounced the elections as fraudulent early on Sunday. “The HZhK does not accept their official results,” a party spokeswoman told an overnight news conference.
Geghamian took a more ambiguous position, refusing to say whether his party accepts the election outcome. “Many people don’t hide their sympathy for National Unity and are encouraging us. If, God forbid, that sentiment is not validated [by the CEC], it will be obvious that the elections have been rigged.” he told RFE/RL, hinting that he still hopes to get a better result.
Armenia’s three most radical opposition groups also failed to win any parliament seats and alleged massive fraud. In a joint overnight statement, the Hanrapetutyun and Nor Zhamanakner parties and the Impeachment bloc accused the main pro-Kocharian parties of resorting to widespread vote buying, ballot stuffing and other forms of electoral fraud. “It is already evident that all this had a significant impact on the final election results,” the statement said.
(Photolur photo: Serzh Sarkisian pictured after casting ballots in a central Yerevan polling station on Saturday.)