Wednesday, 12 March 2003

KOCHARIAN WINS SECOND ROUND AMID ALLEGATIONS OF FRAUD

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By Anoush Papazian (3/12/2003 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Immediately after the elections, the opposition parties announced their disagreement with the conduct of the voting process and have called for mass protests. Demirchian, himself, has said that he would appeal to the Constitutional Court for annulment of results. Meanwhile, thousands of supporters of 13 opposition parties held a protest rally in Yerevan, demanding the declaration of the election results as invalid.
Immediately after the elections, the opposition parties announced their disagreement with the conduct of the voting process and have called for mass protests. Demirchian, himself, has said that he would appeal to the Constitutional Court for annulment of results. Meanwhile, thousands of supporters of 13 opposition parties held a protest rally in Yerevan, demanding the declaration of the election results as invalid. They adopted a statement, which voiced support for the international criticism of the elections and appealed to the international community for assistance in \"restoring constitutional order\" in Armenia. Former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, who is also in the opposition now, has promised to build tent camps for his supporters and hold permanent protests. Both the first and second round of elections were characterized by international observers as fraudulent. Radio Free Europe quoted the U.S. State Department saying in a March 7 statement that Washington was \"deeply disappointed\" by the irregularities reported during the presidential election. The statement noted that the authorities in Armenia \"missed an important opportunity to advance democratization by holding a credible election\" and called on the Armenian government to conduct \"a full and transparent investigation\" of all reported violations, and to bring to account those found responsible for those violations. The presidential elections in Armenia were marred by controversy since the beginning of the electoral process. The refusal of the Central Election Commission to register former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovanissian on citizenship grounds (Hovanissian did not live in Armenia for ten years, as required by the election law) is one example. This urged six opposition parties to appeal to the court on Kocharian, who technically also did not live in Armenia for ten years nor did he hold Armenian citizenship, as he has lived in Nagorno-Karabakh until 1997, technically an Azerbaijani citizen. The court, however, voted in Kocharian’s favor. After the conduct of the second round of elections, the representative from People’s Party in the CEC Pavel Edigaryan did sign the CEC’s final protocol, but he did not vote when the final election results were announced. Another member of the CEC, representative from National Unity Party Zagen Pluzian rejected to sign the final protocol and to vote on the approval of results. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who managed President Kocharian\'s re-election campaign, refuted all fraud allegations and told journalists in Yerevan on March 7 that he considered “the election better organized than previous presidential ballots”, according to RFE/RL\'s Yerevan bureau. Sarkissian added, “People who have grown up and lived in Europe cannot understand our mentality. They have their rules and views on democracy, and we have ours.\" On 8 March, U.S. diplomat Peter Eicher, who headed the OSCE Election Observation Mission, rejected Sarkisian\'s claim that the OSCE conclusions were based on too narrow a sample, adding that violations were more widespread during the vote count and tally than the actual voting. Despite ongoing protests and disputes in political circles, the winner, Robert Kocharian, is determined to continue his job. Armenia is heading toward another bout of domestic political turmoil, but authorities are likely to suppress all kinds of unconstitutional measures of opposition.
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