By Emil DanielyanAbout a hundred opposition activists were picketing Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) Monday for the second consecutive day to demand that President Robert Kocharian’s controversial reelection be declared invalid.
The peaceful sit-in is part of broader opposition efforts to keep up pressure on the government-controlled election body. It is widely expected to formalize Kocharian’s victory in the March 5 presidential run-off which international monitors say was riddled with “widespread” irregularities.
The opposition activists, many of them affiliated with the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party of former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian, set up on Sunday two tent camps at both ends of a short street in central Yerevan that houses the heavily guarded CEC building. The street itself, filled with riot police and interior troops since last week’s vote, was shut down for traffic and pedestrians.
The protesters spent a cold night in tents decorated with the pictures of defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian and banners proclaiming him the rightful winner of the two-round vote. “We are fighting against the falsifications,” said Vartan, a bearded Hanrapetutyun member from the town of Vartenis. “We will fight to the end.”
“We are ready to sit here for months, until justice wins,” his friend Hakob agreed.
The picket lines at the other edge of the street comprised many women. “They have falsified everything,” Hasmik, a housewife from Yerevan, said, angrily pointing her hand to the CEC building.
The protest followed yet another opposition rally in Yerevan on Sunday attended by an estimated 20,000 Demirchian supporters. Addressing the crowd, Sarkisian said the opposition will picket the CEC “day and night” to force it to scrap the election, the preliminary results of which showed Kocharian winning 67.5 percent of the vote.
Demirchian again rejected the figures as fraudulent. “Either we come to terms with a government of lies and falsifications or we find the strength to establish justice in a legal and consistent manner,” he told the rally.
The opposition leaders urged supporters across the country to gather in the same place on Tuesday for an “all-Armenian rally” and march towards the CEC which is expected to announce the final election results about that time. They complained that police are again blocking all roads leading to Yerevan to prevent opposition supporters from areas outside the capital attending the street protests.
Some of the highways reportedly remained blocked on Monday even though the opposition held no demonstrations. Anahit Mesropian, a university professor in Yerevan, said some of her students living outside the city arrived late because police would let buses in “at certain intervals.”
Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation said in their most recent report that they witnessed instances of traffic police stopping public transport outside Yerevan “in order to prevent people joining the demonstrators” before the March 5 run-off.