By Karine Kalantarian, Ruzanna Khachatrian and Shakeh Avoyan
Opposition leader Stepan Demirchian indicated on Monday that he will not recognize his defeat in last month’s disputed presidential election even if Armenia’s Constitutional Court upholds its official outcome. He reiterated his claims that the two-round was rigged by incumbent President Robert Kocharian.
“The legitimacy [of a government] lies in the perception and consciousness of the people. In that sense, it doesn’t matter what decision the Constitutional Court will take,” Demirchian told RFE/RL in an interview. “Even assuming that my lawsuit will be turned down, the current president will not become legitimate in the eyes of the people.”
The Constitutional Court, Armenia’s highest judicial body, has been considering Demirchian’s appeal since April 3 and is bound to hand down its ruling by Wednesday. With Armenian courts rarely challenging the executive, very few expect it to invalidate Kocharian’s victory in the March 5 run-off vote.
Demirchian, who mounted an unexpectedly strong challenge against the incumbent, insisted that his lawyers have submitted to the panel of nine judges “sufficient grounds” for scrapping the ballot. “It is obvious that these elections were even more disgraceful than the ones held in 1998,” he said, pointing to the previous presidential race in which his assassinated father, Karen Demirchian, was a top contender.
Kocharian has admitted that there “numerous” vote irregularities in the last election, but insists that those did not have a serious impact on the official results which showed him winning 67.5 percent of the vote. One of his top allies, Vahan Hovannisian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party, made a similar point over the weekend.
“Of course there were irregularities; only a fool would say there weren’t,” Hovannisian told an election-related seminar in Tsaghkadzor, central Armenia. He acknowledged that many government agencies campaigned for Kocharian’s reelection in breach of the country’s law.
“The participation of the state apparatus is a regrettable fact, and we all must fight against that,” he said, drawing parallels with the 1998 and 1996 presidential elections also marred by allegations of vote rigging.
The Dashnaktsutyun leader at the same time defended recent weeks’ arrests of hundreds of opposition supporters over their participation in Demirchian’s protest rallies. “I’m sure that some of them must have really broken glass somewhere,” he argued.
Demirchian, however, again denounced the crackdown as a gross violation of human rights. “It is impossible to cling to power with endless repressions,” he said. “This regime is doomed.”
He also said that his recently formed Artarutyun (Justice) alliance of leading opposition groups will contest next month’s parliamentary elections despite its lingering concerns that they too will not be free and fair. “The Artarutyun bloc must participate in the parliamentary elections and win them,” he said. “Boycott is not the best way out of this situation.”
Artarutyun, which also comprises prominent opposition figures like Aram Sarkisian, Vazgen Manukian and Aram Karapetian, is tipped to make a strong showing in the May 25 elections. Some opinion polls show it as the favorite to win a majority in the new National Assembly. Even government-connected pollsters expect Demirchian’s bloc to fare well.
“The Artarutyun bloc now holds the first place in party rankings,” said Gevorg Poghosian of the Armenian Sociological Association. “There is no doubt that it will win a very serious representation in the National Assembly.”
Artarutyun, according to Poghosian, may well win 40 out of the 131 assembly seats. But the pollsters cautioned that the opposition alliance will face a tough challenge from the governing Republican Party which he said will capitalize on its pervasive “administrative resources.”