Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian made a case on Wednesday for a re-run of Armenia’s disputed presidential election in a speech at the Constitutional Court that marked his first public appearance since the post-election violence in Yerevan.
Ter-Petrosian was placed under de facto house arrest immediately after the break-up early Saturday of his and his supporters’ non-stop protests in the city’s Liberty Square. The authorities did not allow to him to leave his house with his state-funded security detail.
The Constitutional Court ordered authorities on Tuesday to ensure that the opposition leader is able to attend hearings on his appeal against the official results of the February 19 vote that gave victory to Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Ter-Petrosian was surrounded by his longtime bodyguards as he made his way into the court building in Yerevan to deliver a 10-minute speech on the second day of the hearings.
“In this situation, a decision by the Constitutional Court not to invalidate the elections would result in a deficit of legitimacy that would be dangerous for both the country’s future and the Constitutional Court’s authority,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian left it to his legal representatives to detail what his campaign team says are serious irregularities registered during voting and counting of ballots and focused on other aspects of the presidential race. He claimed in particular that Sarkisian’s registration as a presidential candidate was “inherently illegal” because of a law that bars serving government officials from running for president.
Sarkisian and his allies insist that the clause applies to civil servants and that the post of prime minister is a political one.
Ter-Petrosian also cited a constitutional provision which stipulates that presidential elections can not be held in Armenia under martial law or a state of emergency. “A presidential election means the entire electoral process from the nomination [of candidate] to the end of a period set for appeals; namely, a verdict by the Constitutional Court,” he said.
Under Armenian law, the court has to hand down that verdict before Sunday. A representative of the ex-president, Artak Zeynalian, complained that its nine judges will not have enough time to study more than 360 pages of documents and video material which he said will be submitted by the Ter-Petrosian campaign.
The court, which is headed by Gagik Harutiunian, Armenia’s former vice-president during Ter-Petrosian’s rule, has rarely made decisions going against the government’s wishes throughout its 12-year existence. Still, it did question the legitimacy of outgoing President Robert Kocharian’s hotly disputed reelection in 2003 by proposing a “referendum of confidence” in the head of state. Kocharian rejected that proposal as unconstitutional.
In his court speech, Ter-Petrosian also welcomed the European Union’s position on Armenia’s political crisis that was formulated by the Slovenian presidency of the EU in a statement issued late Tuesday.
“The European Union is deeply concerned about the situation in the Republic of Armenia after the presidential elections,” read the statement. “The EU condemns the acts of violence committed during the events of 1 March, which resulted in the loss of life and numerous injuries. The EU calls upon the Armenian authorities to release any citizens detained for exercising their right to peaceful assembly and to lift the state of emergency, which imposes restrictions on media freedom, the freedom to assembly, and on political parties.”
The statement also urged the authorities in Yerevan to allow an “independent investigation” into Saturday’s clashes between Ter-Petrosian supporters and security forces and to begin a “political dialogue” with the opposition. “The constructive dialogue between authorities and the opposition is very important for the consolidation of peace and stability in the country,” it said.
“I fully accept those proposals and consider them a platform for our actions during this session of the Constitutional Court,” said Ter-Petrosian.
The former Armenian leader was far more critical of the EU and the West in general in an op-ed article in The Washington Post published on Wednesday. He expressed dismay at Western powers’ generally positive assessment of the Armenian election and their failure to explicitly condemn the deadly use of force against his supporters protesting against vote rigging.
“Why did the regime headed by outgoing President Robert Kocharian and ‘president-elect’ Sarkisian think it could get away with using force against its own people?” wrote Ter-Petrosian. “Surely the two men had their reasons, but the West's signal, even if unintentional, that they did not have to worry about a strong international reaction was the most important one.”
Ter-Petrosian suggested that the West is indifferent to “the rape of our democracy by the Kocharian-Sarkisian regime” because it lacks faith in rapid democratic change in Armenia and thinks that only the country’s current top leaders can resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “The problem is that despite being in power for the past 10 years, Kocharian and Sarkisian have done little to move the negotiating process forward,” he said. “More important, any leader who must make consequential and difficult choices must have the trust of his people.
“Sarkisian does not have that trust. After what he and Kocharian did on March 1, he will not be able to govern here, let alone make difficult choices.”