The Armenian authorities strongly denied on Tuesday a senior U.S. diplomat’s reported claims that the February 2008 presidential election was rigged in favor of Serzh Sarkisian.
Garegin Azarian, the chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) who administered the disputed vote, said that Joseph Pennington, the former U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, cited no concrete facts to back up the claims in a March 2008 cable disclosed by WikiLeaks late last week.
According to the CEC, Sarkisian swept to a landslide victory with almost 53 percent of the vote, while his main opposition challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, came in a distant second with only 21.5 percent.
Pennington suggested in the leaked document that in fact Ter-Petrosian garnered between 30 and 35 percent of votes and should have qualified for a run-off against Sarkisian. “Mounting evidence … has called into question the government's claim that PM Serzh Sarkisian won a legitimate first-round majority on February 19,” he wrote to the U.S. State Department.
“Did they [U.S. officials] set up the precincts?” Azarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Did they count the ballots? Did they tabulate the election results to make such statements?”
“There were violations during the elections,” he said. “Nobody denies that. But just because there were violations doesn’t mean the election results were rigged. Those are different things.”
Galust Sahakian, a deputy chairman of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), likewise denied massive vote rigging. “Those are gossips, empty talk,” he said. “If it’s up to WikiLeaks to decide who was elected and who wasn’t, I don’t think that’s respectful towards our society.”
Azarian also argued that Western election observers mostly deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that the presidential ballot was held “mostly in accordance” with democratic standards. “One should simply read the OSCE/ODIHR report on the elections and see that no such thing is written there,” he said.
The State Department distanced itself from the OSCE-led monitoring mission’s largely positive verdict, describing the ballot as “significantly flawed.”
Armenian election monitors also alleged serious fraud. Ter-Petrosian and his opposition movement went further, accusing the authorities of falsifying election results to formalize a handover of power from outgoing President Robert Kocharian to Sarkisian.