Kocharian Issues Stern Warning on Election Fraud

YEREVAN (Reuters)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian told top officials on Wednesday they would be held accountable if next Sunday’s parliamentary poll was marred by fraud and irregularities like previous elections.

Foreign observers said contests in 1995–1996 and 1998 were marred by irregularities which tarnished Armenia’s democratic image abroad.

A stern-looking Kocharian warned his top cabinet members they must ensure fairness this time–or face the consequences.

"As president I have the responsibility to uphold the law. We have the opportunity to organize exemplary elections.

"The approach is clear: those who violate (election rules) will not be forgiven. They will be punished with all severity. If any of you know of anyone who has any such plans–come forward now. Every instance will be investigated. No one will have immunity," said Kocharian.

The poor track record has lead to a high degree of cynicism among some locals who fear more falsification. Some smaller parties are boycotting the vote–saying a free and fair election is impossible.

Voters in Armenia with a population of 3.8 million are choosing a new 131-member National Assembly.

Seventy-five seats will be awarded in first-past-the-post individual constituencies and 56 from party lists.

There will be no run-off voting–with the top vote-getter in individual constituencies winning a seat. There is no minimum turnout requirement.

The Unity alliance between Karen Demirchian and powerful Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan is way ahead according to the limited available polling data. Some analysts say it has a chance to gain an outright majority.

Armenia’s orthodox Communist Party is running second and has benefited from continued low post-Soviet living standards. Most people live at or below the poverty line.

Two hundred foreign observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will monitor the poll.

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