By Emil Danielyan, Ruzanna Khachatrian and Hovannes Shoghikian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian pledged to continue to challenge the official results of Armenia’s disputed presidential election on Saturday as tens of thousands of his supporters demonstrated in Yerevan for a fourth consecutive day.
Ter-Petrosian urged Armenians to attend his rallies in even larger rallies and thereby put the authorities under greater pressure to call a repeat election.
“We must show these authorities that the whole people don’t accept them,” he told an estimated 40,000 people who gathered in the city’s Liberty Square. “We must show the entire world that the Armenian people do not tolerate such an unworthy and blasphemous government.”
“This square must be full day and night until the victorious end of our struggle,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian also said that his hardcore supporters will continue their around-the-clock vigil in the square. They were preparing late Saturday to spend another night there in tents and around bonfires. The ex-president warned the authorities against using force against them.
Both the rallies and tent camps were not sanctioned by the authorities. The police have warned the organizers that their actions are therefore illegal.
“Today the state machine is falling apart,” claimed Ter-Petrosian, pointing to the high-profile to defections to his camp by Deputy Prosecutor-General Gagik Jahangirian and several pro-government lawmakers. He portrayed that as proof of “deepening cracks” with the ruling regime.
Jahangirian was sacked by Kocharian on Saturday, and two of the lawmakers in question, who are affiliated with the pro-Kocharian Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), denied pledging allegiance to Ter-Petrosian. “Nobody has left our party,” the BHK leader, Gagik Tsarukian, told RFE/RL. He said Ter-Petrosian and his allies should “acknowledge their defeat.”
Tsarukian, whose bodyguards allegedly beat up several Ter-Petrosian proxies on election day, spoke after a joint emergency meeting of the governing bodies of the BHK and Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK). The two parties were expected to issue a joint statement later in the day.
The leadership of the third party represented in Armenia’s government, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), was also meeting late Saturday to discuss mounting tensions in the country.
In his speech, Ter-Petrosian also accused the United States and Europe of turning a blind eye to what he described as large-scale fraud that marred the Armenian election. “The West doesn’t care about democracy here,” he said. “The West is not sincere in trying to establish democracy in Armenia. They need a weak, dictatorial regime so that they can always have leverage against it.”
The Western-led international observer mission deployed in Armenia by the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament concluded that the vote was “mostly in line” with democratic standards. The observers at the same time found serious problems during the counting of ballots and noted a continuing lack of public trust in the electoral process.
The largely positive assessment of the Armenian authorities’ handling of the vote was echoed by the United States on Friday, with a spokesman for the State Department congratulating Armenians on their “active and competitive election.” “At the same time, we also note that international observers identified significant problems with electoral procedures,” Tom Casey said in a statement.
“Armenian election authorities have responded with the positive step of recounts in a number of jurisdictions. We urge the Government of Armenia to ensure that these recounts are conducted comprehensively and transparently,” added Casey.
The process has already exposed miscounting of ballots in Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s favor in some polling stations. More such violations emerged during recounts in electoral precincts in Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district. In one precinct, about 150 ballots marked for Ter-Petrosian were found on Saturday to have been added to Sarkisian’s tally. “I can’t say why that happened,” said Sarkis Fartajanian, the precinct commission chairman. “Maybe we mixed up ballots by accident.”
During the recount in another Erebuni precinct, a man who presented himself as a Sarkisian proxy took an envelope containing Ter-Petrosian votes and fled the scene in the presence of journalists and an OSCE observers. The chairman of a district election commission of which the precinct is a part denied seeing that. “Nothing was stolen here,” Seyran Mkrtumian told RFE/RL. “I don’t see anything missing here.”
“Where is the envelope for the ballots for Levon Ter-Petrosian?” asked the observer. “I didn’t see that envelope Did you see it?” replied Mkrtumian. “I just saw it in your hands,” said the observer.
The Ter-Petrosian campaign has requested recounts in some 300 of the more than 1,900 polling stations across Armenia. However, only a handful of those requests were granted by the authorities.
(Photolur photo: Ter-Petrosian arrives at the rally with his grandchildren.)