By Karine Kalantarian
The Constitutional Court opened Friday hearings on the first appeal against the official results of Armenia’s presidential election, forcing senior election officials into an embarrassing admission that they failed to fully comply with Armenian law after the February 19 first round of voting.
Responding to the challenge brought by defeated opposition candidate Artashes Geghamian, a lawyer representing the Central Election Commission effectively admitted that its prompt decision to call a run-off vote ran counter to a clause in the Armenian Electoral Code.
Article 63 of the code stipulates that a run-off should be officially announced only if the final results of the first round show that none of the presidential candidates passed the 50 percent plus one threshold for winning outright. The CEC called a second round on February 20, five days before publishing the final first-round figures. According to them, incumbent President Robert Kocharian won 49.5 percent of the vote followed by his number challenger Stepan Demirchian who got 28.2 percent.
Geghamian, who came in third with 17 percent, alleged widespread fraud and refused to recognize the outcome. He now demands that the Constitutional Court declare both rounds of voting invalid.
Pressed for an answer by Geghamian lawyers and court judges, the CEC lawyer, Gevorg Nersisian, said the election body would have lacked time to prepare for the March 5 run-off had it not taken the decision quicker than is required by the law. “At one point, some kind of divergence [from the law] was needed,” Nersisian said.
Constitutional Court chairman Gagik Harutiunian appeared unimpressed by the argument, sarcastically describing it as “interesting.” “Should we take it as an admission that ends justify means?” he asked.
Harutiunian and other judges were also unhappy with the CEC’s failure to submit all documents pertaining to the electoral process. Those include the precise number and nature of complaints filed by Geghamian proxies during and after the February 19 vote. Nersisian apologized for the delay, saying that all requested data will be provided to the court by Tuesday.
The Constitutional Court was due to receive on Friday another appeal to scrap the ballot from Demirchian who was controversially defeated by Kocharian in the second round. But the opposition candidate said his lawyers have requested “one or two more days” to prepare their case.
“The vote irregularities were so numerous that we need additional time,” Demirchian explained to thousands of supporters who again rallied in his support in Yerevan.
Demirchian and his opposition allies urged the crowd to gather next week and exert pressure on the court which has rarely challenged the executive authority throughout its seven-year existence.
(Photolur photo: Harutiunian presiding over the court hearings.)