Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Armenia Reelects President Serzh Sargsyan

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by Haroutiun Khachatrian (02/20/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Armenia conducted its sixth presidential elections on February 18, 2013. According to the unofficial results published by the Central Electoral Commission early on February 19, the incumbent president Serzh Sargsyan won the election by obtaining 58.64 percent of the votes in the first round. California-born Raffi Hovannisian came in second with 36.75 percent of the votes. The results of the exit poll performed by Gallup Organization, which were published at 8pm on the same day, gave Sargsyan and Hovannisian 58 percent and 32 percent respectively. The results imply that Sargsyan has won his second five-year term as Armenia’s president and will rule the country for another five years. The future plans of Hovannisian, who is the founder of Heritage party, and his team are still unknown.

Some 60.5 percent of registered voters, including Armenian citizens who are in the lists but were unable to vote since they are out of the country, were reported to participate in the ballot-casting. 

Seven candidates competed in the sixth presidential vote, of which primarily Hovannisian managed to mount a challenge to the incumbent, finishing second. Former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian came in third with 2.15 percent of the votes, and the Soviet-era dissident Paruir Hayrikyan fourth with 1.23 percent. As noted above, the results largely corresponded with those of the Gallup exit poll. Hence, Sargsyan secured another five years to implement the modernization program pursued by his Republican Party.

While Sargsyan’s victory was largely anticipated, Hovannisian’s relative success is perhaps the main news story of these elections. Hovannisian, 54, was born in Fresno, California, and is the son of the renowned historian Richard Hovannisian, now a professor of the University of South California in Los Angeles. Hovannisian lives in Armenia since 1988, and served as independent Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1991-92. Hovannisian is founder of the Heritage party, which has a faction in the National Assembly and helped him greatly during the elections, though Hovannisian was formally nominated as an ordinary citizen and not a party leader. Early on February 19, Hovannisian asserted that he received significantly more votes than was reported, and that he was going to make a statement at an upcoming rally. Other than this, Hovannisian’s plans are unclear. Bagratrian has also stated that he intends to challenge the election results.

The election was monitored by over 600 foreign observers, in addition to domestic ones. Most observers noted that the February 18 elections were conducted in a calm and orderly manner. The opposition lacked a prominent leader and the general attitude seemed to be that people voted to elect a leader, not a savior of the nation, as candidates have sometimes presented themselves in previous and more polarized Armenian elections. The voting itself was largely conducted in accordance with the legislation. In the pre-election environment, media have provided a balanced coverage of all candidates. This said, several cases of double voting and other violations have been recorded, and these are currently under investigation. However, initial observer reports state that the number of violations was lower than in any previous election in Armenia, including the parliamentary elections of May 6, 2012. Hence, there is good reason to believe that Armenia’s election culture is improving by each election conducted, and that the promise made by Armenian authorities to make the February 2013 elections the cleanest in the country’s independent history was likely kept.

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