By Irina Hovannisian
Raffi Hovannisian appeared reluctant on Tuesday to join more radical opposition leaders in challenging the official results of the Armenian parliamentary elections, despite accusing the authorities of stealing two-thirds of ballots cast for his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
Zharangutyun and the Orinats Yerkir Party of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian are the only opposition forces that won seats in Armenia’s new parliament controversially elected on Saturday. According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), Hovannisian’s party won about 6 percent of the vote and will have 6 seats in the 131-member National Assembly.
Zharangutyun looked set to make a stronger showing shortly after the closure of polls late on Saturday when Armenian TV channels reported first vote results from Yerevan and other parts of the country. The party seemed to be doing particularly well in many Yerevan precincts where it trailed only the governing the Republican Party (HHK.) In the event, it barely managed to clear the 5 percent vote threshold for being represented in the parliament under the system of proportional representation.
Hovannisian claimed that Zharangutyun polled three times more votes than were shown in the CEC’s preliminary vote tally. “We saw those 250,000 votes [cast for Zharangutyun] shrink to 80,000 through a miscounting and invalidation of ballots,” he said.
“When European observers speak of progress [in the conduct of Armenian elections,] they probably mean that 250,000 was not turned into 25,000,” he added sarcastically in reference to their positive assessment of the vote.
Orinats Yerkir and virtually all other opposition parties have similarly refused to recognize the official election outcome, alleging widespread fraud. The most radical of those parties plan to continue to hold anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan and hope that they will be joined by Orinats Yerkir and Zharangutyun.
While not ruling out such possibility, Hovannisian indicated that his party will likely accept the parliament mandates allotted to it by the CEC and will not boycott sessions of the newly elected parliament. He promised to clarify its stance after the publication of the final vote results.
“Zharangutyun is entering the parliament as an opposition party, and the fact that we will be in small minority gives us even greater responsibility,” the U.S.-born politician told a news conference. “At the same time we appreciate the spirit of [opposition] solidarity and cooperation. If we see that that spirit reigns and if see we that there are no ulterior motives and parochial interests involved … everything can be considered.”
Hovannisian also said Zharangutyun will not appeal to the Constitutional Court against the election results but is ready to assist in a legal challenge planned by Orinats Yerkir. “Some of our distinguished colleagues will be appealing to the Constitutional Court,” he said. “Zharangutyun will also participate in that process by providing concrete facts to our colleagues.”