By Hovannes Shoghikian, Ruzanna Stepanian and Astghik Bedevian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian claimed to be the rightful winner of the Armenian presidential election and vowed to “fight till the end” on Wednesday as tens of thousands of his supporters demonstrated in Yerevan against its disputed official results.
He indicated that the street protests will continue until the Armenian authorities reverse what he and his allies call massive electoral faurd. The authorities clearly anticipated such protests, deploying riot police and interior troops around key government buildings in the capital.
“We will not retreat. Even if nobody is left by my side, I will never retreat,” he told the angry crowd after it marched through the city center and gathered in its Liberty Suare late in the evening.
Ter-Petrosian urged supporters to gather in the same location on Wednesday. “Tomorrow at three o’clock you will be witnessing an extremely important event,” he said whout elaborating. “We will fight till the end.”
Many in the crowd were reluctant go to home, erupting into “Now! Now!” chants. “I can understand you,” responded the opposition presidential candidate. “But rest assured that we are better informed than you.”
Ter-Petrosian claimed to have a “clear plan of actions” in a speech at a rally earlier Wednesday that the preceded the procession of his supporters. “Let them not doubt that with our clear program we will achieve our full victory,” he said. “And let them not think that they can cause us to loose our temper. No, we will act in a very restrained, calm and confident manner.”
The protesters chanted “Levon! Levon!” as they marched past the Central Election Commission and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s office. Scores of baton-wielding riot police stood guard outside both buildings in downtown Yerevan. There were also truckloads of interior troops and other security forces with heavy riot equipment near President Robert Kocharian’s official residence and the Armenian parliament.
In his first speech, Ter-Petrosian charged that the election, official results of which gave victory to Sarkisian, was blatantly rigged. “Nothing extraordinary has happened,” he said. “Once again there have been normal disgraceful elections.”
“Despite efforts made by the authorities and criminal elements, vote bribes, violence, ballot stuffing, the candidate of the people won,” he added, referring to himself.
Ter-Petrosian claimed that the authorities secured a desired election outcome by grossly inflating voter turnout and allowing multiple voting by impoverished citizens bribed by the Sarkisian campaign. According to CEC, a record-high 1.6 million Armenians, or almost 70 percent of the country’s eligible voters, cast ballots on Tuesday.
“According to our calculations, only 1.1 million voters took part in the elections,” said Ter-Petrosian. He also complained that the alleged multiple voting would not have been possible had the authorities accepted his demand to mark voters’ fingers with indelible ink.
“Unfortunately, international organizations and observer missions did not take this proposal seriously,” said the ex-president. “I believe that they too are responsible for this disgraceful election.”
The Ter-Petrosian campaign has also alleged other serious violations such mass beatings of its proxies and miscounting of ballots. All these allegations have been shrugged off Sarkisian’s campaign team and the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
“As we have said before, holding democratic elections is a top priority for us,” the HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, told RFE/RL. “I believe that these elections will prove to be the most democratic in the history of our country.”
Sharmazanov also defended the extraordinary security measures in Yerevan, saying that security forces will use force only if the opposition protests turn violent. “Law-enforcement authorities have to peform their duties defined by law at any moment,” he said. “That’s what they get paid for from the state budget.”