The head of an umbrella structure uniting Europe’s leading center-right parties has brushed aside Armenian opposition criticism of his unequivocal endorsement of the official results of Armenia’s disputed presidential election.
Wilfried Martens of the European People’s Party (EPP) insisted late on Thursday that the February 18 election was not rigged and that President Serzh Sarkisian won it legitimately. He pointed to the largely positive initial assessment of the ballot made by European election observers.
“There was real progress,” Martens told RFE/RL in Brussels. “Not all reforms were realized but there is enormous progress. So I think that it is not correct to say that these elections were falsified. I think that the president was really, correctly elected.”
Martens was one of the first Western leaders to “warmly” congratulate Sarkisian on winning a second term. “I am confident that the country’s democratization process will be further enhanced under the leadership of President Sarkisian,” he wrote in a February 19 letter.
Raffi Hovannisian, Sarkisian’s main election challenger who considers himself the rightful election winner, strongly condemned the EPP leader’s “hasty congratulation” on Wednesday, saying that it ran counter to European values. In an ensuing letter to the EPP, Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party threatened to pull out of the pan-European grouping if the latter does not disavow Martens’s stance.
Martens scoffed at the criticism. “Perhaps the challenger of the president had not 20 percent [of the vote] he hoped [to get] but much more: 37 percent,” he said. “Perhaps he now has the illusion that he could have [won] a majority. But it was not the real fact. The real fact is that there was a majority in the first round for the president [Sarkisian.]”
Hovannisian hit back at the former Belgian prime minister during a fresh rally held in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Friday. “How does he know that I expected 20 percent and must be happy with 37 percent? Whose script is he reading? You can guess,” he told thousands of supporters. “Serzh’s,” shouted some in the crowd.
Hovannisian also charged that Martens “rigged Europe’s grand values.” “If this is Europe, then we don’t need it,” he said.
Martens spoke to RFE/RL shortly after meeting Sarkisian on the sidelines of an EPP summit in Brussels. Sarkisian, whose Republican Party is also affiliated with the EPP, was reported by his press office to have thanked Martens for supporting him during the presidential race.
The Armenian leader also delivered a speech at the EPP gathering earlier on Thursday. He pledged to carry on with “comprehensive reforms” and European integration during his second five-year term.
Martens already raised eyebrows in Armenian opposition circles with strong support for Sarkisian and the ruling HHK voiced during last year’s parliamentary elections. The HHK won the May 2012 polls amid similar opposition allegations of vote rigging.
Martens predicted that victory in a video address to an HHK congress held in March 2012. “Long live the Republican Party,” he declared at the time.