By Shakeh Avoyan
After a three-day delay, Armenia’s Central Election Commission published on Tuesday the final official results of last week’s presidential election which show President Robert Kocharian failing to win outright by a razor-thin margin.
According to the official figures, Kocharian garnered 49.5 percent of some 1.4 million votes which the election chiefs say were cast on February 19. This is 0.3 percent less than the preliminary figure cited by the CEC on February 20. The threshhold for a first-round win is 50 percent plus one vote.
Kocharian’s main challengers, Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian, remained in second and third places with 28.2 percent and 17.6 percent of the vote respectively. Another opposition candidate, Aram Karapetian, came in a distant fourth with about 3 percent. Veteran opposition politician Vazgen Manukian, who nearly became Armenia’s president in 1996, suffered the biggest humiliation, taking just under one percent.
All opposition candidates claim to have been robbed of thousands of votes by the authorities. Geghamian says vote rigging was so widespread that the poll must be scrapped and re-run. His representative at the CEC, Zaven Pluzian, repeated the demand but was rebuffed by eight other commission members. A Geghamian proxy present at the meeting branded them “traitors.”
The Demirchian campaign has also alleged widespread fraud but is reluctant to take Geghamian’s advice and quit the race.
The CEC’s deputy chairman, Hamlet Abrahamian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), said the body has received 106 complaints of ballot box stuffing, illegal voting and other irregularities and has asked state prosecutors to investigate some of them. He said election officials have recounted ballots in only 15 out of 70 polling stations where opposition proxies say the results were falsified. Abrahamian argued that even if all those allegations were true the falsification could not have changed the overall picture.
“You don’t hold elections with presumptions,” countered one of Demirchian’s proxies, parliament deputy Vartan Mkrtchian.
The CEC did not present a detailed breakdown of its final tally by all 1,865 polling stations as was repeatedly suggested by election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Speaking to RFE/RL shortly before the publication of the figures, the head of the OSCE observer mission, Peter Eicher, deplored what he described as “a troubling lack of transparency in the tabulation process.”
Eicher declined to say whether he thinks the “significant irregularities” reported by his team could have affected the outcome of the first-round poll. “It’s extremely difficult to tell, especially because they haven’t published the detailed results,” he argued. “So we have nothing to compare to the results that we received in polling stations.”