YEREVAN (Armenpress–Reuters–RFE/RL–Yerkir)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian won a new five-year term in office on Thursday–with official preliminary results of the election showing Kocharian winning about 67.5 percent of the vote.
Supporters of defeated opposition challenger Stepan Demirchian called a demonstration in the center of the capital to denounce the outcome of the poll. Each side has accused the other of fraud in a grueling campaign.
Participants chanted "Demirchian is president!” but appeared weary after several days of protests following the first round vote on February 19–that also sparked protests.
The opposition statement demanded that the Central Election Commission scrap the run-off. Its signatories urged the crowd to again gather in the same place on Friday–indicating their intention to achieve their goals primarily through anti-government demonstrations. Demirchian stressed that the opposition will fight for its cause "only within the constitutional framework," but did not elaborate.
"Mr. Kocharian–your victory sucks," thundered Aram Sarkisian–the outspoken leader of the Hanrapetutyun party. "With our unity and consolidation–we will achieve the resignation of the current authorities in two or three days."
Meanwhile–Kocharian supporters praised the election process: "I don’t think that there were serious irregularities yesterday," said Galust Sahakian–the parliamentary leader of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). "Some people might have done some things in some places. But I believe that did not have a major impact on the elections." Putin Congratulates Kocharian
In a telegram congratulating Robert Kocharian for his victory–Russia president Vladimir Putin wrote–"I am very glad to congratulate you on the occasion of your victory in the presidential elections–and wish you luck in your further activity." Monitors Present Reports
"Yesterday’s presidential elections in Armenia fell short of international standards,” Peter Eicher of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–told reporters. "We are disappointed. We hoped for better.”
Asked whether violations were sufficiently serious to invalidate the run-off–Eicher said: "That’s not our job. That is the job of the Armenian people…. Our job here is to assess the election against international standards.”
Lord Russell-Johnston–head of a group of monitors from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly–also expressed disappointment with the conduct of the run-off. "My small team actually saw a ballot-box stuffing case,” he said.
At the same time–Russell-Johnston praised the active participation of the population in the election process and working process organized by numerous electoral commissions. He particularly emphasized the importance of the live TV debates between the two presidential candidates held on March 3.
The opposition accuses Kocharian’s supporters of ballot-box stuffing–voter intimidation and other underhand tricks–but the president’s campaigners returned the fraud charge.
"We have heard of many instances of ballot-box stuffing and attempts by Demirchian’s official representatives to disturb the normal process of the election,” said Vahagn Mkrtchyan–spokesman for the president’s campaign headquarters.
Members of the CIS observation mission monitoring the March 5 runoff concluded that the "elections were legitimate and democratic," and expressed readiness to assist in organizing and conducting parliamentary elections,
One of the mission coordinators Alexander Tarkelov said that although they had witnessed small instances of irregularities– those could not have had a significant impact on the outcome of the polls.
Asked by an ITAR-TASS reporter to comment on opposition claims that 400,000-600,000 fake ballots had been allegedly used to rig vote results in Kocharian’s favor–CIS monitoring mission head Yuri Yarov said "it was simply impossible" and that mission has not seen such ballots.
Asked about the arrests of protesters after the first round of voting on February 19–Yarov said: "The irresponsible statemen’s made at the demonstrations and rallies–as well as slanderous publications in some newspapers–saying I had been dismissed from the position of the observation mission head–created an environment where unconstitutional steps were taken."
As for opposition claims that members of the military were forced to vote openly–an observer said they visited three polling stations where the military was voting and witnessed no such instances.