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Ruling Party Sweeps Yerevan Polls As Opposition Cries Foul


Armenia -- Mayor Gagik Beglarian prepares to cast his ballot in the May 31, 2009 municipal elections in Yerevan.

President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) swept to a landslide victory in the weekend municipal elections in Yerevan that were denounced as fraudulent by the country’s two main opposition groups. (UPDATED)

The Central Election Commission (CEC) said on Monday morning that with all of the cast ballots counted, the HHK won 47.4 percent of the vote, enough to re-install its top candidate, Gagik Beglarian, as Yerevan mayor. The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), one of the HHK’s two junior partners in the ruling coalition, came in a distant second with 22.7 percent.

Trailing the BHK was the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), which the official vote results showed getting 17.4 percent of the vote, well below its expectations.

Orinats Yerkir, the third party represented in Sarkisian’s government, finished fourth with only 5.2 percent. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which was also part of the governing coalition until recently, fared even worse, getting about 4.7 percent, according to the CEC. With the legal vote threshold for single parties seeking to gain seats in Yerevan’s Council of Elders set at 7 percent, this means that neither Orinats Yerkir, nor Dashnaktsutyun will be represented in the new municipal assembly.

The CEC put voter turnout at over 53 percent. The highest turnout, more than 65 percent, was registered in the city’s Malatia-Sebastia, scene of the largest number of vote irregularities reported by the Armenian opposition, media and independent observers.

The first vote results showing an HHK victory were released at around midnight following opposition allegations of widespread fraud during Sunday’s voting. Levon Zurabian, a leader of the HAK, said the Armenian authorities have held “yet another criminal election.” “Vote rigging had a systematic character,” he told a news conference held shortly after the closure of the polls on Sunday evening.

Zurabian singled out vote buying as the most frequent form of fraud registered by the opposition. He also alleged widespread intimidation of and violence against opposition proxies in the polling stations.

“These elections were in no way different from the past elections held in Armenia,” said Grigor Harutiunian, another leading HAK member.

The HAK’s assessment of the election administration was shared by the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, which did not contest the vote but closely monitored its conduct. “Our assessment is highly negative,” Armen Martirosian, Zharangutyun’s parliamentary leader, told RFE/RL. “We have botched the first election of the Yerevan council in a disgraceful fashion.”

Martirosian decried “widespread” bussing of allegedly bribed voters by the country’s two main governing parties. He said Zharangutyun has also registered “many instances of violence” and ballot box stuffing. “I think the police performance today was a disaster,” he charged.

Predictably, President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) described the polls as largely free and fair. “Yes, there were some shortcomings, but by and large ballot stuffing, multiple voting and other problems that existed in the electoral process were essentially absent today,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK spokesman.

This view was echoed by the CEC, which is dominated by government loyalists. Speaking on state television, its chairman, Garegin Azarian, said the CEC has investigated the opposition allegations and most of them proved false.

Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General similarly said it has looked into some of the vote buying claims and found them baseless. The BHK and Dashnaktsutyun, for their part, declined to comment on the authorities’ handling of the elections on Sunday night. They said they will formulate their positions on Monday.

Speaking before the announcement of the first CEC figures, HAK representatives made clear that the broad-based alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian is not yet demanding that the elections be invalidated and held anew. They said the HAK’s final stance depends on the integrity of the vote count.

“We retain serious hopes that the vote count will uphold our victory,” explained Zurabian. He said the HAK still hopes to pass the 40 percent vote threshold for installing its top candidate, Ter-Petrosian, as Yerevan mayor.

In an ensuing statement, the HAK alleged serious violations during the counting of ballots in more than a dozen polling stations. RFE/RL correspondents were present at vote counts in three precincts and saw no evidence of fraud.

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