By Hrach Melkumian and Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s main opposition force, the Artarutyun (Justice) bloc, reaffirmed on Tuesday its refusal to recognize the official outcome of the weekend elections which will allow President Robert Kocharian to retain control of the parliament.
But the bloc, which came in a distant second in the preliminary vote tally, remained undecided about whether or not to boycott sessions of the newly elected National Assembly.
“These results have nothing to do with the people’s will,” Artarutyun’s popular leader, Stepan Demirchian, told RFE/RL. “This was yet another disappointing and disgraceful election.”
“It’s obvious that the voter turnout was considerably inflated. It’s also obvious that the bloc’s votes were reduced,” Demirchian said.
According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), Artarutyun won 14 percent of votes cast under the system of proportional representation. The bloc, which had expected to grab at least a third of the 131 parliament seats, claimed victory shortly after the closure of polls on Sunday. However, the official figures put it on track to control only 17 seats, nowhere near enough to threaten Kocharian’s hold on power.
“The elections were thoroughly falsified with the same techniques used in the past,” said Vazgen Manukian, a prominent Artarutyun member and veteran opposition politician.
Some political observers have suggested that the Demirchian-led alliance will boycott the new parliament. Demirchian said the idea is currently discussed by its leadership, but avoided giving his own opinion.
Manukian spoke out against the boycott, arguing that it would deprive the opposition of a major forum for political struggle. “You are more able to fight for the country’s future being inside the parliament than outside it,” he told reporters.
Asked about the bloc’s future actions, Manukian said he thinks it should fight for the holding of a “referendum of confidence” in Kocharian later this year. The idea was suggested by the Armenian Constitutional Court shortly after the hotly disputed presidential election. It was angrily rejected by the president and his allies.
The only other opposition group that will be represented in the National Assembly is the National Unity party of Artashes Geghamian. National Unity will likely get nine seats there. Its opinion on the freedom and fairness of the elections is not yet known.
Relations between Artarutyun and National Unity have grown very hostile in recent months, with the Demirchian camp accusing Geghamian of secretly collaborating with the authorities during and after the presidential election. Geghamian has repeatedly rebutted the allegations.