By Karine Kalantarian and Anna Saghabalian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian was declared on Wednesday the winner of Armenia’s presidential election which President Robert Kocharian hailed as “free and fair,” but his two main challengers refused to concede defeat, alleging serious fraud.
According to the full preliminary vote results released by the Central Election Commission (CEC), Sarkisian won 52.8 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off with one of the opposition candidates. Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian came in a distant second with 21.5 percent, followed by another opposition leader, Artur Baghdasarian, who got 16.7 percent. Another major candidate, Vahan Hovannisian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), finished fourth with only 6.1 percent, the CEC said.
The vote results were approved in the morning by six of the eight members of the CEC, including Dashnaktsutyun’s representative Hamlet Abrahamian. The two other commission members representing the opposition Zharangutyun and Orinats Yerkir parties rejected the figures as fraudulent and boycotted the CEC meeting in protest.
Under Armenian law, the CEC has to release the final election results by February 26.
In a written address to the nation, President Robert Kocharian welcomed Sarkisian’s landslide victory and said the presidential ballot was “free and fair.” “It was an important test for the strengthening democracy in our country,” Kocharian said. He expressed confidence that Sarkisian, his longtime close associate, will “consolidate the society” and create “an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual understanding” as head of state.
Ter-Petrosian rejected the official vote tally, saying that the ballot was rigged and must be re-run. “Taking into account widespread falsifications and violence, which totally distorted the expression of the people’s will, the campaign team of Levon Ter-Petrosian does not recognize the official results of the elections published by the CEC and demands the holding of a new election,” it said in a statement made public at a rally in Yerevan.
A statement by Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir likewise alleged that Tuesday’s voting was accompanied by “numerous falsifications” and the intimidation of opposition proxies by government loyalists. The party demanded the authorities “reconsider” the published vote results and recount ballots in more than 200 polling stations.
By contrast, Hovannisian and his party, which is a junior partner in Armenia’s governing coalition, conceded defeat, even if it stopped short of calling the vote free and fair. “One thing is clear: we have lost,” Hrant Markarian, another Dashnaktsutyun leader, told RFE/RL. “I can’t say to what extent that reflects the will of the people, to what extent that was the result of fraud. In any case, our organization is able to overcome such difficulties.”
Markarian said Dashnaktsutyun is not examining fraud reports received from polling stations across Armenia and may challenge official results there.
Meanwhile, Sarkisian reportedly received late Wednesday the first congratulations from foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashavili. Sarkisian and his allies also celebrated his victory with a firework outside the headquarters of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). HHK sources said Kocharian was also in attendance.