A pro-government candidate won a weekend by-election to Armenia’s parliament amid fraud allegations made by representatives of his arrested opposition challenger and some independent monitors.
The election was marked by an extremely low turnout indicating renewed public apathy towards politics and electoral processes in particular. According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), only 24 percent of some 55,800 eligible voters in a central Yerevan constituency bothered to cast their ballots on Sunday.
The lack of popular interest in the tightly contested vote appears to have hurt Nikol Pashinian, the main opposition candidate standing trial on charges stemming from the March 2008 unrest in the capital. Preliminary official votes showed him winning 37.5 percent of the vote and trailing his pro-government rival, Ara Simonian, who got 57 percent.
The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), of which Pashinian is a senior member, rejected the election results as fraudulent and said it will challenge them in court. It claimed at the same time that the official vote tally testifies to the HAK’s “strength and growing authority.”
“The January 10 election clearly demonstrated serious progress in the growth of civic consciousness within the society and the ruling regime’s deepening internal erosion,” the bloc led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian said in a statement.
Pashinian issued a separate statement from his prison cell, saying that he understands the “disappointment” of HAK activists and other supporters with the course and outcome of the ballot which he also condemned as fraudulent. The outspoken editor of the pro-opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” urged them not to fall into “despair” and to continue to fight for leadership change in Armenia.
Both Pashinian and the HAK alleged a long list of irregularities, including vote buying, ballot stuffing and intimidation of opposition proxies and election observers by government loyalists. The bloc’s representatives demanded that vote results be annulled in at least two precincts and said they will present evidence other violations to the district election commission this week.
Meanwhile, the leader of the pro-presidential National Unity Party (AMK), with which Simonian is affiliated, insisted that the vote was free and fair and that his supporters were not responsible for violent attacks on opposition members reported on polling day. Artashes Geghamian also thanked the three parties represented in Armenia’s government for facilitating the AMK candidate’s victory.
“In my view, the elections solved one issue,” Geghamian told RFE/RL. “The parties making up the government once again showed our society that they are determined to go beyond partisan interests and to form a new political culture.”
Geghamian did not explain why the Simonian campaign demanded vote recounts in 11 precincts shortly after the closure of the polls on Sunday evening. Opposition representatives believe this was done to keep election officials too busy to deal with opposition complaints in the coming days.