By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Opposition leader Stepan Demirchian accused Western powers on Monday of turning a blind eye to what he called a repeat of serious electoral fraud in Armenia.
He rejected Western observers’ preliminary conclusion that Saturday’s parliamentary elections largely met democratic standards, saying it was influenced by geopolitical interests of their governments.
While noting that the alleged irregularities were mainly “invisible” and “difficult to detect” this time around, Demirchian said: “This is not the first time that big powers subordinate democratic principles to geopolitical interests.” He would not specify what those interests are.
Demirchian and his People’s Party (HZhK) had endorsed the observers’ strong criticism of the Armenian government’s handling of the last parliamentary and presidential elections held four years ago. The criticism gave weight to opposition allegations of large-scale vote rigging.
The heads of a 400-strong observer mission mostly deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Sunday that the Armenian elections were a significant improvement over the 2003 polls. Their verdict gave a massive boost to President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian whose democratic credentials have for years been questioned by the West. The two leaders will continue to have a commanding majority in Armenia’s parliament.
Demirchian, who was Kocharian’s main challenger in the 2003 presidential election, rejected as fraudulent the official vote results which showed his party winning less than 2 percent of the vote. He claimed that the authorities deliberately barred the HZhK from winning any parliament seats in order to “weaken” him ahead of next year’s presidential ballot.
“This was the victory of government levers and vote bribes in Armenia,” he told a news conference. “The elections can not be considered free and fair. This parliament was not formed by means of a free expression of popular will.”
Demirchian admitted that the lack of unity within the Armenian opposition also contributed to its poor performance. “Of course, it would be good if the opposition was united,” he said.
It was not clear if Demirchian regretted his decision not to team up with several pro-Western opposition forces, notably the radical Hanrapetutyun party of Aram Sarkisian, ahead of the elections. He and other HZhK figures seemed confident at the time that their party will pass the 5 percent vote threshold for entering the National Assembly on its own.