Kocharian Leads with 60 Percent of Votes

YEREVAN (Reuters–Noyan Tapan–Armenpress)–Prime Minister and Acting President Robert Kocharian was leading in the polls during Armenia’s run-off presidential elections Monday–beating his opponent–Soviet-era Communist party boss Karen Demirchian by a 20 percent margin. Kocharian received an estimated 60 percent of the votes.

Results from preliminary vote counts in some rural areas of Armenia indicted that of an initial 15,288 votes cast–11,901 went to Kocharian while the remaining 3,381 votes were cast for Demirchian.

In the Ashnak district which leaned toward Demirchian in the first round of voting–410 votes were cast for Kocharian while Demirchian received 270. In Artik Kocharian was leading with 70 to 30 margin.

In Gumri–with 23 of the 53 polling stations reporting–Kocharian had a comfortable lead over Demirchian with 35,000 to 30,000. Preliminary results from Yerevan also indicated a win for Kocharian. In the Shirak region–which includes Gumri–Akhurian–Amasaia and Artik reported an overwhelming lead for Kocharian–while Ashogk residents voted for Demirchian. In Lori Kocharian led with 61 percent of the votes.

The Central Electoral Commission issued its first official results at 2 a.m. local placing Kocharian at the lead with 65 percent of the votes–based on a tabulation of four percent of the entire vote.

Polls closed in Armenia at 10 p.m. Monday–while voting took place in various Diaspora communities including Los Angeles where the Armenian Consulate has set up two polling stations at the Consulate and at the Armenian Society of Los Angeles center in Glendale.

Armenian centers in Glendale–Hollywood–North Hollywood and Montebello were designated as election service centers–where voters were provided with rides to polling booths–as well as information on the elections.

The vote was being closely watched in the West because of the impact of the result on the country’s decade-long conflict with its oil-rich neighbor Azerbaijan over territory.

Early in the day–accusations of fraud began flying from the Demirchian camp–which said that his opponents campaign was rigging the elections.

"There are massive violations going on across the country. We are getting more complaints than we can even keep up with," said Demirchian campaign chief Armen Khachataryan.

Observers James Russel and famous political analyst Telman Gedelian reproted that the vote was free and fair.

Kocharian press spokesman Aghvan Vartanian dismissed the charges–which he said were designed to discredit the election.

He said supporters of Demirchian handed out anti-Kocharian leaflets in violation of the law–which Demirchian’s campaign denied.

"Demirchian’s people are spreading rumors in order to cast a shadow over the election," he said. He also said there were instances of ballot box stuffing by Demirchian’s supporters.

Leaflets discrediting Kocharian were dispersed throughout the country on election day–Kocharian campaign spokesman Aghvan Vartanian told journalists Monday–stressing that this can be viewed as a violation–since any propaganda or counter-propaganda on the day of the elections is illegal.

According to Vartanian–Demirchian’s campaign staff spread false reports on widespread violations and terror–which have not been confirmed."

Similar acts are intended to deliver a blow to the results of the free election and the country’s prestige," Vartanian maintained.

The runoff is proceeding "better" than the first round–but with a lower turnout–Vartanian reported.

The anti-Kocharian pamphlets alleged that Robert Kocharian and the ARF were connected to the death of the first chairman of the Supreme Council of Karabakh–Artur Mkrtchian; that Kocharian belongs to the former regime; that Kocharian is involved in a monetary scandal; that Kocharian has relations with those responsible for the rigged and unfair presidential elections of 1996; and that Kocharian is unrecognized by international forces.

Karen Demirchian’s campaign staff issued the following statement dismissing accusations of its staff making public anti-Kocharian pamphlets.

"Calling a news conference–the Kocharian campaign staff spokesman–Aghvan Vartanian–accused Demirchian’s campaign staff of allegedly spreading leaflets discrediting Kocharian. We state with all responsibility that it is an obvious attempt of defamation: Demirchian’s campaign staff hasn’t published or spread any leaflets," the statement read.

"At the same time–we consider a number of statemen’s made at the news conference as an obvious counter-propaganda on Election Day and–therefore–a gross violation of the Presidential Election Law," Demirchian’s statement said. Concluding with–"We urge all voters not to yield to violations and remain calm."

The OSCE reported widespread violations in the first round–while election observers from Russia–the CIS and the Council of Europe all agreed that while minor violations occurred–the vote was generally free and fair.

Monitors say Armenian elections in 1995 and 1996 were tainted by fraud. Former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan used tanks and troops to stifle protests after the 1996 vote.

Kocharian–voting at a Yerevan dental clinic–said steps had been taken to limit abuses which blighted the first round.

"We’ve tried to take the (OSCE) recommendations into account. I think it will be much better," he said.

Foreign companies are investing heavily in neighboring Azerbaijan’s Caspian oil fields but its unsolved conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region remains a time bomb.

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