YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–The United States was cautious in reacting to Tuesday’s presidential elections in Armenia, saying that it is concerned about problems in the vote count reported by the observers in their preliminary report.
"We are concerned by some elemen’s of the report, including a description of the vote-count as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ in 15 percent of the polling stations observed," said Edgar Vazquez, a spokesman for the State Department.
According to the AFP news agency, Vazquez also called on the Armenian government and the opposition to "maintain this peaceful situation and to refrain from any acts of illegality or violence."
Meanwhile, evidence of serious fraud emerged on Thursday during vote recounts in some of the electoral precincts. Official vote results in one precinct in central Yerevan initially showed Sarkisian getting 709 votes. However, a recount there revealed that in reality only 395 local residents voted for the prime minister and that the extra votes added to his tally were stolen from other candidates. State prosecutors opened a criminal case in connection with the miscounting of ballots and arrested the precinct commission chairman later in the date.
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday continued to receive congratulations from foreign leaders and insisted that he was democratically elected as Armenia’s next president.
In a statement circulated by his Republican Party late Wednesday, Sarkisian thanked Armenia’s for their "overwhelming support" of his candidacy in Tuesday’s presidential election. "As I said before the elections, I am going to be the president of all Armenia’s," he said.
A spokesman for the HHK and the Sarkisian campaign, Eduard Sharmazanov, insisted that the vote was the most democratic in Armenia’s history, dismissing opposition claims to the contrary. "There were also shortcomings, but they did not influence the final result," Sharmazanov told RFE/RL. "I believe that all proposals that were made by our European partners will be taken into account and the quality of election organization in Armenia will increase further in the future."
The view was echoed by the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest pro-government force that actively campaigned for Sarkisian. "Our candidate scored a convincing victory," said Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK member. "I am confident that our people are prudent enough not to succumb to any adventures," she added, referring to ongoing opposition protests in Yerevan.
Sarkisian’s victory was recognized by Russia, France and neighboring Georgia whose presidents sent congratulatory messages to Yerevan on Wednesday. Sarkisian was also congratulated on Thursday by Turkish President Abdullah Gul. "I hope your new duty will provide the necessary atmosphere for normalizing ties between the Turkish and Armenian peoples who have proved for centuries that they can live side by side in peace and harmony," Gul said in a letter.
The Armenian government also received supporting messages from Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign and security policy chief, and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary general. The government’s press office said both men praised the conduct of the Armenian presidential election. Solana was cited as endorsing its largely positive assessment by Western observers.
According to the Central Election Commission, Serzh Sarkisian won Tuesday’s election with 52.8 percent of the vote, while Ter-Petrosian came in a distant second with 21 percent. The Armenian authorities say the election was democratic, a view largely shared by Western observers. Ter-Petrosian and another major opposition candidate, Artur Baghdasarian, insist, however, that the vote was rigged.
Secretary General of the European Union, Javier Solana, congratulated the Armenian people Thursday for "holding orderly and competitive presidential elections," Mediamax reported. The statement comes amid accusations of electoral fraud by Levon, who allegedly hoped to come to power through staging post-election street protests supported by the international community. According to Central Election Commission results, Ter-Petrosyan won 21% of the vote.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer echoed Solana’s statement and said he is encouraged by the preliminary findings of the International Election Observation Mission. However, he added, various problems remain to be addressed.
"NATO looks forward to continue working with Armenia in the framework of the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) to lend support, where we can, to the strengthening of Armenia’s democratic institutions," he said. "Concerns have also been raised and they have to be addressed."
According to the OSCE report, the presidential election was administered mostly in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitmen’s and standards.
"The high-State authorities made genuine efforts to address shortcomings noted in previous elections, including the legal framework, and repeatedly stated their intention to conduct democratic elections." The report reads. "However, further improvemen’s and commensurate political will are required to address remaining challenges such as: the absence of a clear separation between State and party functions, the lack of public confidence in the electoral process and ensuring equal treatment of election contestants. The conduct of the count did not contribute to reducing an existing suspicion amongst election stakeholders."
Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday congratulating Sarkisian on his victory, reported Armenpress.
"Russia highly appreciates the relations of trust, constructive dialogue and mutual support, which have been established between our countries," Putin’s statement said. "The consistent deepening of ally partnership fully meets the fundamental interests of the Russian and Armenian peoples and assists the consolidation of stability in Transcaucasia."
"I note with pleasure your great personal contribution to the development of Russian-Armenian relations," the statement continued. "I am confident that your activity as the Armenian President will assist their further progress".
French President Nicolas Sarkozy echoed Putin’s sentimen’s with a congratulatory letter of his own.
"On behalf of the French nation I congratulate you on victory in the presidential election," Sarkozy said in the letter. "I congratulate the Armenian people on the choice which proved confidence in the government you head, the government which follows the path of political reforms and approaches Europe."
Sarkozy also reaffirmed France’s support for stability and peace in the South Caucasus, saying that as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, France will continue to work for a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.
The United Kingdom and United States have yet to remark on the conduct of elections. Both countries refrained from congratulating President Kocharian until his inauguration after the disputed 2003 presidential election.