Armenians went to the polls on Monday in a presidential election which was widely expected to give President Serzh Sarkisian a second five-year term in office.
According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), one-third of Armenia’s 2.5 million eligible voters cast ballots in nearly 2,000 polling stations across the country by 2 p.m. local time. Sarkisian and his two main opposition challengers, Raffi Hovannisian and Hrant Bagratian, were among the early voters.
Armenia - Serzh Sarkisian, incumbent President, casts his vote at the presidential election in Armenia, Yerevan,18Feb2013
“I voted for Armenia’s future,” Sarkisian said after casting a ballot in central Yerevan. “I voted for a secure Armenia, for the security of our citizens and families.”
Asked whether he believes the vote will be free and fair, he said, “We will see when we tabulate election results.”
Sarkisian and his government have repeatedly pledged to ensure that the presidential ballot is the most democratic in the country’s history.
Hovannisian, meanwhile, voted at a polling station in Yervan’s Nor Nork district. “Today is the most fateful day in our modern history,” he told reporters. “For the first time in 20 years our people are going to celebrate not somebody’s victory and others’ defeat but the results of elections belonging to themselves.”
Armenia - Raffi Hovannisian, opposition candidate, at a polling station before casting his vote at the presidential election, Yeravan,18Feb,2013
Hovannisian urged Sarkisian to recognize “the people’s victory” and rein in government loyalists that he claimed are engaged in vote buying, voter intimidation and other irregularities. The opposition leader said there are already reports that special passport stamps meant to prevent multiple voting can be easily erased.
Bagratian likewise cited vote buying and other “numerous” irregularities reported by his campaign offices as he visited another polling station in the Armenian capital. He said he is already thinking about “post-election developments.”
In that regard, Bagratian did not rule out the possibility of street protests. “I hope that I will not disappoint voters,” added the former prime minister.
Armenia - Opposition presidential candidate Hrant Bagratian votes talks to reporters at a polling station in Yerevan, 18Feb2013.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian assured journalists that the Armenian authorities are aware of these allegations and will investigate them “one by one.” He also insisted early in the afternoon that polling has been “calm” so far.
“All comments and suggestions that are being made will be at the center of our attention,” the premier said. “Law-enforcement authorities will take all appropriate actions to make sure that there are no doubts that the elections are free, transparent and without violations.”
Also voting on Monday was former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, another opposition leader who was Sarkisian’s main challenger in the 2008 presidential election. Ter-Petrosian, who is not running for president this time around, refused to disclose whom he voted for.
“I voted for the Republic of Armenia,” said the leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). “I would love to vote for all seven candidates but the law doesn’t allow that,” he added jokingly.
Armenia - Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian casts his vote at the presidential elections, Yerevan,18Feb,2013
Asked what he expects from the vote, Ter-Petrosian replied, “I always expect a lot from elections.” But he did not elaborate.
Ter-Petrosian announced his decision not to join the 2013 presidential race in December. The HAK said shortly afterwards that it will not field or endorse any other presidential candidate, including Bagratian. The latter remains formally affiliated with the bloc.
Robert Kocharian, another ex-president who handed over power to Serzh Sarkisian in 2008, did not take part in the voting. His press secretary, Victor Soghomonian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that Kocharian is not in Armenia at the moment.
Asked whether Kocharian is thus boycotting the ballot because of his disagreements with Sarkisian, Soghomonian said, “I think that he would have voted if he had been in the country.”