Incumbent Kocharian Gains 49.8% of Vote Presidential Elections Enters Second Phase

"I’m happy to have supported a candidate who has received more than 49% of the vote-who will–nevertheless be entering a run-off election because wants to gain the decisive and convincing vote of his citizens."
ARF Bureau Representative Hrant Margarian

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)-Armenia faced a second-round run-off in elections for president after Robert Kocharyan–having received 49.8 percent of the vote–failed to win a new term outright.

Kocharyan needed to clear 50 percent of the vote for a victory. The run-off will be held on March 5.

The incumbent Kocharian will face Stepan Demirchian–who polled 27.7 percent in the run-off.

Initial voting results from various parts of the country gave Kocharian a huge lead over his main challengers–suggesting that he would not need a run-off. In Syunik–for example Kocharian won nearly 70 percent of the vote.

In an interview on Armenian public television–ARF Bureau Representative Hrant Margarian explained that the elections were exemplary in establishing a new caliber of democracy in the country. "I am happy to be living in today’s Armenia–to have supported a candidate who has received more than 49% of the vote-who will–nevertheless be entering a run-off election because wants to gain the decisive and convincing vote of his citizens."

At one stage–even before the final results were announced–about 5,000-6,000 Demirchian supporters marched to election commission headquarters in Yerevan on Thursday afternoon to demand a recount. Hundreds of riot police–wearing helmets and brandishing shields–formed a tight chain around the election commission to prevent protesters from entering.

With counting slowed by heavy snow–tensions ran high following the opposition charges of fraud. This–despite transparent ballot boxes being used in Wednesday’s poll to boost voter confidence.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights(OSCE/ODIHR) and the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe said the election showed less evidence of fraud than in previous years–"The election was administered efficiently within an improved legislative framework." They did–however–report irregularities.

"While we were pleased to see an active and vigorous campaign–we are concerned about serious shortcomings that were evident during the run-up to the election," said Peter Eicher–the head of the OSCE/ODIHR long-term observer mission. "The counting process was flawed and the long-term election process fell short of international standards in several key respects.”

Markarian noted–"I am convinced that there were various aberrations by all sides; the masterminds–however–can be found in the opposition forces." He stressed that the irregularities registered in this election are minute compared to those in previous elections–and could not have significantly affected the outcome of the elections. "The elections conducted in a serious manner–were calm and truly free and fair."

A team of monitors dispatched by the CIS executive secretary–and led by its chairman Yuri Yarov–was the first among hundreds of other international observers to release a statement Thursday morning amid opposition claims about mass vote fraud.

The statement called the opposition’s claims "groundless," saying that monitors were dispatched to 277 poling stations across Armenia to watch the election process which "were held in line with the requiremen’s of Armenian Electoral Law and democratic standards–in a transparent–free–legitimate and open environment. . . in all meetings–including meetings with representatives and proxies of the candidates from the opposition–people showed that the situation is calm."

"They consider the presidential election as non legitimate. In order to make such a statement the candidates should have had serious facts," said Yarov. Yarov also expressed his surprise that the statement was composed between 5-6 p.m.–when the voting was still going on. The leader of CIS monitoring mission also expressed hope that the candidates who signed the statement would present concrete facts of breaches in order to be considered in accordance with Armenian legislation.

The Central Election Commission missed the legal deadline of 1 p.m. (0900 GMT) to announce official preliminary results–saying harsh winter weather had interfered with the vote tally. The announcement came through hours after the deadline.

"The law is the law and the electoral commission’s decision is important for us," said Vahagn Mkrchian–a spokesman for Kocharian’s campaign team. "We’re not going to dispute this decision."

Arshak Sadoyan–a member of parliament and a Demirchian supporter–nevertheless insisted that the authorities had intended to call the election in favor of Kocharian but backed off after opposition protests Thursday.

"I think that a win by a narrow margin would have created unnecessary doubts and consequences–which would damage the international authority of Armenia. . . He will particularly need the confidence of the nation in advancing his foreign policy–specifically in maintaining his stance during the ongoing Nagorno Karabagh settlement negotiation process," noted ARF’s Margarian. He also emphasized the importance of broad popular support to promote an unreserved internal policy to combat corruption–and to establish justice and order in the country.

Kocharian’s campaign manager–Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian said he remains confident about the president’s victory. "We consider this to be a vote of confidence in the incumbent president," he told a late-night news conference. "Getting such a high percentage of votes in a struggle with eight candidates is a good result."

Sarkisian did admit that the Kocharian camp made some mistakes and will have to change its strategy. "Although we were confident that our candidate would win in the first round–we probably failed to fully take into account the existing reality," he said. "The techniques used by our rivals apparently proved effective. However–we are confident that we will win the run-off."

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