By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Shakeh Avoyan
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday continued to receive congratulations from foreign leaders and insisted that he was democratically elected as Armenia’s next president.
In a statement circulated by his Republican Party (HHK) late Wednesday, Sarkisian thanked Armenians for their “overwhelming support” of his candidacy in Tuesday’s presidential election. “As I said before the elections, I am going to be the president of all Armenians,” he said.
A spokesman for the HHK and the Sarkisian campaign, Eduard Sharmazanov, insisted that the vote was the most democratic in Armenia’s history, dismissing opposition claims to the contrary. “There were also shortcomings, but they did not influence the final result,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL. “I believe that all proposals that were made by our European partners will be taken into account and the quality of election organization in Armenia will increase further in the future.”
The view was echoed by the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest pro-government force that actively campaigned for Sarkisian. “Our candidate scored a convincing victory,” said Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK member. “I am confident that our people are prudent enough not to succumb to any adventures,” she added, referring to ongoing opposition protests in Yerevan.
Sarkisian’s victory was recognized by Russia, France and neighboring Georgia whose presidents sent congratulatory messages to Yerevan on Wednesday. Sarkisian was also congratulated on Thursday by Turkish President Abdullah Gul. "I hope your new duty will provide the necessary atmosphere for normalizing ties between the Turkish and Armenian peoples who have proved for centuries that they can live side by side in peace and harmony," Gul said in a letter.
The Armenian government also received supporting messages from Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign and security policy chief, and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary general. The government’s press office said both men praised the conduct of the Armenian presidential election. Solana was cited as endorsing its largely positive assessment by Western observers.
The United States was more cautious in reacting to the developments in Armenia, saying that it is concerned about problems in the vote count reported by the observers in their preliminary report. “We are concerned by some elements of the report, including a description of the vote-count as 'bad' or 'very bad' in 15 per cent of the polling stations observed,” said Edgar Vazquez, a spokesman for the State Department.
According to the AFP news agency, Vazquez also called on the Armenian government and the opposition to “maintain this peaceful situation and to refrain from any acts of illegality or violence.”
Meanwhile, evidence of serious fraud emerged on Thursday during vote recounts in some of the electoral precincts. Official vote results in one precinct in central Yerevan initially showed Sarkisian getting 709 votes. However, a recount there revealed that in reality only 395 local residents voted for the prime minister and that the extra votes added to his tally were stolen from other candidates. State prosecutors opened a criminal case in connection with the miscounting of ballots and arrested the precinct commission chairman later in the date.
The HHK’s Sharmazanov downplayed the extraordinary fraud case, saying that such violations do not have a systematic character and will not have a serious impact on the final vote results which are due to be released by the Central Election Commission by February 26. In a separate statement, the HHK released the results of recounts in more than 30 other precincts that did not significantly differ from the initial tallies.