The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Tuesday continued to put a brave face on its candidate Nikol Pashinian’s defeat in the weekend parliamentary by-election that was marred by reports of fraud and violence.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s head-office coordinator, claimed that the bloc has done very well in the tense race despite failing to ensure Pashinian’s victory. “In extremely difficult conditions, we managed to achieve astonishing results,” he said.
Official vote results showed Pashinian garnering over 5,000 votes, or 37.5 percent of the total, in a single-mandate electoral district covering much of central Yerevan. His pro-government rival, Ara Simonian, carried the constituency with 57 percent of the vote, according to them.
The vote was also marked by an extremely low turnout which the district election commission put at about 24 percent. The figure is seen by many as a sign of renewed public apathy towards politics and electoral processes in particular.
Zurabian insisted that the opposition performance was “wonderful” given the fact that Pashinian remained in prison and what he called widespread vote buying, intimidation and violence perpetrated by the Simonian campaign. He went as far as to draw parallels between the vote and last year’s troubled parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.
“In effect, our authorities adopted the Taliban tactics,” he charged. “They resorted to intimidation during the pre-election period and on election day.”
Zurabian also claimed that the HAK managed to raise the public’s awareness of “political prisoners” remaining in Armenia and boost its political engagement. In a statement issued on Monday, the opposition bloc led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian likewise spoke of a “growth of civic consciousness within the society.”
Not all HAK supporters seem to have bought into the optimistic spin. Pashinian acknowledged “disappointment” reigning among his campaign activists in a statement issued from his prison cell late Monday.
A leading pro-HAK daily, “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” described the election outcome on Tuesday as a victory for President Serzh Sarkisian. It argued that less than 10 percent of some 55,800 eligible voters in the Yerevan constituency bothered to vote for a “candidate who openly acted against the authorities.”
“Everything has remained the same, the situation has not changed, and the opposition has therefore failed to achieve its objective,” wrote the paper. “To put it simply, the opposition has lost.”
Zurabian also reiterated that the HAK does not recognize the official election results and will challenge them in court. Simonian, for his part, maintained that the vote was “very good.”
Simonian dismissed as “provocations” instances of violence against opposition proxies and journalists reported on election day. “We will talk about that in detail later on,” the winning candidate told RFE/RL.