YEREVAN (Armenpress–Noyan-Tapan–RFE/RL–Yerkir)–Hundreds of thousands of Armenian citizens headed to the polls on Wednesday–the second time in less than a month–to elect their president for the next five years in a runoff between the incumbent Robert Kocharian and Stepan Demirchian.
In the first round of elections–Kocharian fell short of the simple majority he needed to win the February 19 election outright–receiving 49.48 percent of the votes. His challenger People’s Party leader Demirchian received 28.22 percent–while seven other candidates were knocked out of the race.
Some 1,865 polls opened at 8. am and closed at 8 PM–marking the end of the Armenian presidential runoff. At around midnight–Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) announced that 1,605,388 Armenian citizens (64.7% of eligible voters) participated in the second round; the first round registered 63.1% participation.
At 2:15 am–more than 6 hours after the end of voting–CEC Chairman Artak Sahradian announced that of the 1865 polling stations–results had been tabulated from 721 (total of 511,636 votes)–revealing that Stepan Demirchain received 30.4% of votes (153,065 votes) –while Robert Kocharian received 69.6% (349,757 votes).
Preliminary figures showed that as many as 454,097 (60.8%) voters went to the polls in Yerevan–Aragatsotn region 56,350 (59.5%)–Ararat region 132,396 (71.5%)–Armavir region 135,850 (66.8%)–Gegharkunik region 120,567 (70.8%)–Lori region 147,985 (61.9%)–Kotayk region 137,392 (65.6%)–Shirak region 130,787 (62.2%)–Syunik region 99,110 (79.2%)–Vayots Dzor 25,482 (68.5%)–and in Tavush 66,372.
The Central Election Commission put the number of eligible voters at 2,300,410–several thousands more than the first round–after thousands of voters originally omitted from voter lists restored their voting rights. At the close of polls–4,278 voters (1,938 in Yerevan and 2,340 in the regions) had restored their right to vote.
Another 15,000 Armenian citizens living abroad are listed in voter registries.
As of 7 PM–7,204 Armenian citizens cast their votes at polling stations set up by Armenian diplomatic missions abroad. In Moscow 5750 voted at one of three polling stations there–Saint Petersburg 825–Alma Ati 266–Ashgabad 30–Minsk 134– Kiev 47– Tehran 66– Brussels 70–Athens 97–and Tbilisi 81.
CANDIDATES CAST VOTES
Speaking to journalists after casting his ballot in a central Yerevan voting precinct–incumbent President Kocharian said that he is in an "excellent" mood and remains committed to a "free–fair and transparent" vote.
Asked by an RFE/RL correspondent what his political opponents should do if they witness vote irregularities–he replied: "One should appeal to the prosecutor’s office in accordance with the existing rules and things will have a legal continuation."
"The president is not a policeman," Kocharian stressed. Still–he added that he stands ready to "contribute" to a legitimate electoral process.
Casting his vote at a Yerevan polling station–Stepan Demirchian told reporters that "I will win if the voting is more or less fair." He was accompanied by family members and campaign manager and staff.
A reporter present while Demirchian spoke to the press–responded to claims of Demirchian campaign manager Grigor Harutiunian who told reporters that Demirchian proxy Marieta Tumanian was taken into police custody after she tried to prevent an incident of ballot box stuffing at the Nor Nork district. The reporter refuted Harutiunian saying that having just come from that very district–she saw and heard of no irregularities there.
CALLS FOR CALM AND DEMOCRACY
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian cast his ballot at a Yerevan precinct and told reporters "I believe that national interests should be placed beyond narrow political interests and all efforts aimed to undermine our state be excluded"
In response to Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer’s March 4 statement–calling on both the authorities and the opposition forces "to bear in mind that what the country needs now are free elections–accepted by all sides as fair and legitimate and that a repetition of the incidents that took place during and after the first round would mean lost election for everybody–regardless of the outcome"–Oskanian said that any election provides Armenia with an opportunity to demonstrate that democracy is firmly established in Armenia. "The first round did not enable us to do so–but I believe that today we shall work to show that we have not only gone into the second round–but also are holding an election in all conformity with democratic principles."
The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe jointly deployed the largest international mission to monitor the election.
The head of PACE observers–Lord Russell Johnston–on Wednesday endorsed Schwimmer’s remarks–saying that the reported irregularities were a "great pity."I hope that the second round will not be the same." He at the same time noted that "in a large part of the country the conduct of the election was quite proper."
On election day–Lord Johnston–having visited three polling stations in Yerevan–commented that voting was proceeding well so far. He also said that the procedure of polling is generally well-organized.
A delegation from eight CIS countries–divided into fifteen observer groups–monitored the elections in ten Armenian provinces and Yerevan. They arrived in the regions on the eve of the polls to do preparatory work.
Referring to NA member Arshak Sadoyan’s statement that he awaits not the election outcome but a civil war–ARF Bureau member Vahan Hovhannisian said–"Many people dream of a civil war in Armenia and in some of our neighboring countries–people live with that hope."
Hovhannisian expressed amazement at the short-sightedness of such people. "I would like to stress again that confrontation is not between the authorities and the people; some forces are trying to pit one part of the nation against the other. If anyone tries to call for a civil war–the authorities should react promptly to avert such moves."