Armenians Vote for New National Assembly

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Armenian went to polling stations Sunday to vote for a new National Assembly.

With one-third (262,558) of the votes counted–preliminary results at 7:30 p.m. Yerevan time–announced by the Central Electoral Commission and reported by Armenpress news agency indicated that the alliance between Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and former Communist Party chief Karen Demirchian walked away with 45 percent (107,369) of the votes–while the Law and Unity bloc garnered 9.77 percent (23,173) of the votes. Trailing close behind was the Communist Party of Armenia with 9.04 percent (21,451) of the votes and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation with 7.79 percent (18,481) of the votes. In fifth and sixth place are the National Democratic Union with 6.32 percent (14,937) of the votes and Orinats Yerkir with 5.41 percent (12,838) of the votes respectively.

These results reflect the vote in the proportional system–which allocates 56 out of 131 seats in the next parliament to the parties or blocs receiving the most votes. The majoritarian slate then occupies the remaining 75 seats–which can also represent parties or blocs vying for power in the National Assembly.

The controversial former Armenian Interior minister Vano Siradeghian won the elections in precinct 75 in the Tavoush region. Siradeghian party–the Armenian National Movement–failed to garner the five percent necessary to be in the parliament–thus ending its eight-year rule.

As has been the case in the past–numerous parties–among them the ARF–pointed out irregularities in the voting process–with thousands of voters leaving polling stations without having voted–since their names did not appear on voter lists.

Estimations place the entire voter turnout at 50 percent of the 2.2 million registered voters.

In speaking to foreign journalists Monday–Central Electoral Commission chairman Artak Sahradian declared that the inaccuracies in voter registration–according to his observations–amounted to five to six percent of the entire voting population–thus the alleged violations would not affect the final election outcome.

According to IFES Director Andre Buchard–the elections mainly proceeded without violations. At the same time–Buchard said that the inaccuracies in voter registers were an obstacle for citizens wanting to participate in the polls.

Sahradian said that the National Assembly elections were valid–acknowledging inaccuracies in voter registration.

He pointed out–however–that the inaccuracies were not large-scale and the elections would not be annulled.

According to Sahradian–observers from the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly were surprised that citizens of Armenia not only went to the polls but also applied to the courts to be allowed to vote.

"Today our people conducted itself not in an ordinary way. They wanted not only to form the National Assembly but also to vote for favorite deputies. In this context–according to him–the course of elections can be assessed positively.

According to the CEC chair–although observers were very prudent in giving assessmen’s–nevertheless–the CIS observers made a positive assessment–the Council of Europe also expressed positive remarks.

Elsewhere around Armenia–President Robert Kocharian visited several polling stations and precincts–following which he answered questions from journalists.

"There are some minor inconsistencies in voter registrations–which are settled quite efficiently through the courts–all through the night similar processes were taking place," Kocharian said adding that during his meeting Sunday with international election monitors he was told of great strides in the election process in comparison to previous polls held in Armenia.

Aside from a well-managed election process–the Armenian president emphasized the need for the emergence of a new political culture on the part of the participants in the election campaigns.

Expressing confidence that the National Assembly formed as a result of the elections will reflect the real correlation of forces–Kocharian said that the next issue will be to make preparations for the first session of the newly elected National Assembly–to form parliamentary governing bodies–commissions–after which a more clear picture will emerge.

The ARF information and analysis service accused a proxy of the Unity bloc of violating the secret ballot principle in the elections.

Gegham Manoukian said that a Unity bloc proxy at a polling station in Aragatsavan village would review voters’ ballots and later allow them to cast their votes.

The first violation in the election process was registered at the 13th precinct located at the Chekhov secondary school. Famous actor and ARF member Sos Sargssian was deprived of the right to vote–because of inaccuracies in voter registrations. Sargssian said that he was not going to take the action to court.

Before entering a polling station–Sos Sargssian voiced hope that the elections will be quite fair.

"Today the people of Armenia are clarifying their present and future today. If we display seriousness and elect the worthy ones–if we really value our vote–realize that it is not a mere voting for or against a candidate–but that it is done for the sake of our children–it seems to me that there will be a certain positive shift following the elections."

In the United States (Washington–Los Angeles–New York) 146 voters participated in the elections–with six of them voting against all. The Unity bloc received 50 votes–ARF – 51–Worthy Future – 11–NDU – 6–ANM – 2–Shamiram – 4–Azatutiun – 3–Hayrenik -2–DPA – 2–the Union of Socialist Forces and Intelligentsia bloc–RAPA–and the Law & Unity bloc – 1 vote each. Three ballots were declared invalid.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Monday it had found some irregularities in Armenia’s parliamentary election but the poll had been an improvement on recent votes in the country.

The OSCE said in a statement its preliminary findings showed Sunday’s election was “a relevant step towards compliance with OSCE commitmen’s” but also listed “serious concerns.” OSCE officials said separately the vote had not met OSCE standards .

“We say that this election represents a relevant step forward to meeting OSCE commitmen’s. That means not quite (meeting OSCE standards),” Tone Tingsgaard–special OSCE representative–told a news conference as votes were still being counted.

The OSCE–a group of more than 50 countries which monitors disarmament and democracy–said a final assessment would be issued within a month. OSCE monitors said elections held in Armenia in 1995–1996–and 1998 were seriously flawed.

“The (1999) Armenian parliamentary elections demonstrated an improvement over prior elections. The elections were conducted in a generally peaceful and orderly manner which was free from intimidation,” the OSCE statement said.

But the statement also raised concerns about the “accuracy of voter lists–the formation of elections commissions–the presence of unauthorized persons in polling stations–and numerous technical and organizational shortcomings.”

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