By Hovannes Shoghikian, Irina Hovannisian, and Ruben Meloyan
Opposition leader Artur Baghdasarian on Wednesday accused the authorities of rigging Armenia’s parliamentary elections and said his Orinats Yerkir Party will challenge their official results in the Constitutional Court.
According to the Central Election Commission, Orinats Yerkir polled almost 7 percent of the vote and will hold nine of the 131 seats in parliament. Many had expected the party to fare better in the polls. The performance is therefore seen as a serious setback for Baghdasarian, even though all other opposition parties running for parliament got fewer votes.
“We are convinced that there were falsifications in many polling stations,” the former parliament speaker said. In particular, he echoed opposition allegations of unprecedented vote buying by the Republican Party of (HHK) and other pro-government forces.
Baghdasarian said Orinats Yerkir will demand that the Constitutional Court “revise” and, if necessary, invalidate the official vote results. He urged other opposition parties to assist in the lawsuit by providing more concrete evidence of fraud.
“Many parties now say that the elections were fraudulent,” he told a news conference. “We are now your microphone. Gives us [evidence of fraud] so we can submit it to the court.”
Zharangutyun, the other opposition party that won parliament seats, has already announced its intention to do so. Its leader Raffi Hovannisian has accused the authorities of stealing two-thirds of votes cast for the party.
In Baghdasarian’s words, Orinats Yerkir will also be seeking a nationwide recount of ballots, something which the CEC has refused to do.
Orinats Yerkir did manage to force on Wednesday a vote recount in at least one of Armenia’s 41 electoral districts covering much of the central Aragatsotn region. The party’s candidate in the district, Razmik Terterian, found suspicious extremely high voter turnout registered in many local villages.
In one of them, Tutujur, turnout was as high as 100 percent, with virtually all of the 211 ballots cast for the HHK and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), according to the village election commission. A recount conducted by the higher district commission found that quite a few of those ballots were in fact marked for opposition parties which official results showed getting no votes at all. Several other opposition parties had ballots cast for them wrongly invalidated.
It also turned out that village officials failed to submit registration lists, which citizens have to sign before voting, to the district election commission, something which is required by Armenia’s Election Code. This fact led the commission member representing Orinats Yerkir, Seyran Abgarian, to demand that the election held in Tutujur be annulled.
The commission chairman, Harutiun Ohanian, rejected the demand, insisting that the document in question did not disappear. “Please do not impede my work,” he angrily said when pressed by Abgarian. “You’re not smarter than me to tell me what to do.”
Similar violations were exposed during a vote recount in Vartenis, another Aragatsotn village where election officials recorded a 96 percent turnout. It emerged that the HHK tally there included 20 votes cast for another pro-presidential party, while 16 votes marked for opposition parties were illegally given to Dashnaktsutyun.
Also, the precinct commission in the nearby village of Aragats officially reported that 607 local voters took part in Saturday’s elections. However, the recount, which will continue on Thursday, found only 300 ballots cast there. “They wrote down the figure stupidly,” explained the embarrassed district commission chief.
“We will be active, resolute and at the forefront of the struggle,” Baghdasarian said in Yerevan. But he indicated that Orinats Yerkir will not join in a campaign of street protests planned by more radical opposition forces. He also implied that the party will accept the parliament mandates allotted to it by the CEC and will not boycott parliament sessions if it loses the legal action. Zharangutyun’s Hovannisian signaled a similar stance on Wednesday.
The radical opposition will hold its next rally in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Friday. One of its leaders, Nikol Pashinian, began a two-day sit-in there on Wednesday, in an effort to attract greater public support for the anti-government campaign.
“This is another statement that we are not coming to terms with the situation in Armenia and will do everything in our power to change that situation,” Pashinian told RFE/RL. “If that means spending nights here in Liberty Square, we’ll do that. If there are other steps, we’ll take them.”
Also protesting against the election results was Israel Hakobkokhian, a former world boxing champion who ran for parliament in a constituency in Yerevan’s southern Shengavit suburb. He went on a hunger strike outside the CEC building in central Yerevan to demand a re-run of the election that was controversially won by Grigor Markarian, an HHK-backed businessman.
“I just couldn’t think of other ways of struggle. I’m still shocked by the fraud,” Hakobkokhian told RFE/RL, accusing Markarian of buying his way into the Armenian parliament. “People were bused to polling stations like prisoners. They were paid right inside the minibuses,” he claimed.
Markarian’s main challenger, Heghine Bisharian of Orinats Yerkir, has also alleged large-scale vote buying. The businessman, who himself used to be affiliated with Orinats Yerkir, denies this.