Kocharian Hails Free And Fair Elections as Five Parties Qualify for Parliament Membership; International Observers Deem Elections Democratic

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–President Robert Kocharian congratulated Armenia’s Monday saying that Saturdays Parliamentary Elections were free and fair and marked another major step towards democracy. [The elections] were free, fair, and transparent, which is certified by the Central Election Commission, law-enforcement bodies, as well as local and international observers, he said in a written address to the nation. I congratulate all of us on taking yet another step towards democracy. Kocharian said authorities will meticulously examine and redress all irregularities reported during the vote. He also urged election contenders to end election-related recriminations and restore the atmosphere of mutual tolerance now that the official vote results have been announced. According to the Central Election Commission, the Republican Party of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian won about 34 percent of the vote and will control nearly half of the 131 seats in the National Assembly. The Prosperous Armenia Party came in a distant second, followed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation with almost 13 percent of votes. Kocharian visited the Republican Party headquarters in downtown Yerevan to congratulate it on the landslide victory on Monday. He also extended congratulations to Tsarukian and other Prosperous Armenian leaders who visited the presidential palace later in the day. Kocharian telephoned ARF Bureau chairman Hrant Markarian on Monday to praise the partys showing. The Orinats Yerkir and the Heritage party both garnered the more than five percent needed to be part of the new parliament. The percentage figures apply to the system of proportional representation under which 90 of the 131 seats in the National Assembly were contested. In a statement released on Sunday, the Orinats Yerkir leadership refused to recognize the official results, alleging large-scale falsifications. A spokesman’said the party will file an appeal to the Constitutional Court. Also clearing the five percent vote threshold for entering the legislature under the proportional system was the Heritage party of former foreign minister Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian. It got 6 percent of the vote, according to the CEC. The party looked set to make a much stronger showing shortly after the start of the vote count on Saturday night. Early results from polling stations across Yerevan put it in second place behind the Republicans. Hovannisian and other Zharangutyun leaders did not immediately react to the nationwide vote tally. Armenian Elections Largely Democratic, Say Western Observers Western observers made a positive assessment of the Armenian governments handling of the weekend parliamentary elections, saying that they were largely democratic despite a bad counting of ballots in a considerable number of polling stations. The findings of some 400 observers mostly representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) came as a further serious boost for Kocharian and Sarkisian, who have retained a comfortable majority in Armenia’s parliament. The Armenian election elections were an improvement from previous elections and were conducted largely in accordance with international standards for democratic elections, Tone Tingsgaard, vice-president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, said on behalf of the observer mission that also comprised parliamentarians from the European Union and the Council of Europe. The conduct of the voting was assessed positively in the vast majority of polling stations observed, she told a news conference in Yerevan. And the vote count, although very slow, was mostly conducted in a correct manner. It is good to see that the previous elections, which were strongly criticized by the international community, were not repeated, said Leo Platvoet, head of a delegation of observers from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). The Armenian authorities have addressed many of the election-related recommendations made by the Strasbourg-based organization, he said. Marie Anne Isler Beguin, who led a smaller team of monitors from the European Parliament, likewise said that the elections took place without major incidents and were a step forward in the democratization of Armenia’s political system. A 10-page preliminary report released by the heads of the OSCE-led observer mission concluded at the same time that the authorities in Yerevan were unable to fully deliver a performance consistent with their stated intention that the election would meet international standards and some issues remained unaddressed. It noted in particular that counting of ballots was bad or very bad in about 20 percent of polling stations visited by the observers. This figure is far too high to [make one] feel comfortable, said Platvoet. Boris Frlec, who led the missions core segment deployed by the OSCEs Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, expressed concern at delay of the tabulation of vote results from many polling station in Yerevan by the Central Election Commission. This does not correspond to the fact that have already received vote protocols [from those polling stations] this morning, he said. The mission is in the process of comparing data from the received protocols with all the election results posted on the CEC website. Both Frlec and Platvoet said that their observers also witnessed instances of voters being bused to polling stations across the country. But they said the observers have no compelling evidence to claim that those voters were bribed by pro-government candidates. Armenian opposition parties say vote buying was widespread during and in the run-up to Saturdays voting. The missions report listed specific polling stations in various parts of the country where the mostly Western observers claim to have witnessed multiple voting, deliberate falsification of results, and other types of electoral fraud. Still, Tingsgaard insisted that none of those reported violations were serious enough to significantly affect the election outcome. But she stopped short of explicitly endorsing the credibility of the vote results released by the Central Election Commission. It is my hope that they reflect the will of the people, said the OSCE parliamentarian. Its not black and its not white, Platvoet said of the conduct of the vote. But I think its more white than black. The US Embassy made a statement Monday congratulating Armenia on "a more successful poll than previous elections". "We share the satisfaction of international observers that the election infrastructure, both legal and technical, has been greatly improved, the statement read. We are proud that our partnership with government and non-government structures in Armenia has supported these improvemen’s. We value highly the work of the many election officials who were dedicated to completing their work with integrity, continued the statement. Javier Solana, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Monday made the following commen’s concerning the parliamentary elections in Armenia: "I congratulate the people of Armenia on the improvemen’s in the conduct of the parliamentary elections yesterday, which were conducted largely in accordance with OSCE and Council of Europe commitmen’s, and I encourage the Armenian Government to rapidly address the shortcomings identified by the international observers, said the statement. The Armenian people have demonstrated greater political maturity through these elections. I am confident that Armenia and the EU will continue to develop relations in a spirit of partnership. This will also be a positive signal to other countries in the region, added Solana. I also congratulate the election observers – in particular the many EU nationals among them – on successfully completing their important work, he concluded. The German presidency of the European Union said on Sunday that weekend elections in Armenia were "on the whole" conducted fairly and freely. "The Presidency welcomes the fact that compared to previous elections, significant progress has been made," a statement said. It called on Armenia ahead of presidential elections in 2008 "to investigate and resolve the procedural problems which still exist, particularly those concerning vote-counting but also the isolated cases of irregularities which were observed." No Armenian election has been judged free and fair since the country became independent with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Armenia’s largest vote-monitoring organization echoed on Monday international observers largely positive verdict on Saturdays parliamentary elections which it said were more democratic than the previous ones. The non-governmental organization Its Your Choice monitored the election campaign and deployed about 4,000 observers in most of the polling stations across the country on voting day. These elections were better and took place in a more civilized atmosphere than the past elections, the IYC chairman, Harutiun Hambartsumian, told RFE/RL, presenting their preliminary findings. Of course, there were shortcomings, violations. But there was a clear improvement. Election Results Republican Party of Armenia 453,032 Prosperous Armenia Party 204,443 Armenian Revolutionary Federation 177,192 Orinats Yerkir Party 95,296 Heritage Party 80,890 United Labor Party 59,307 National Unity Party 49,863 New Times Party 47,018 Peoples Party 37,034 Dashink Party 33,093 Peoples Party of Armenia 23,629 Republic Party 22,609 Impeachment block 17,808 Communist Party 8,835 National Democratic Party 8,591 Democratic Way Party 8,468 National Consent Party 4,251 Democratic Party of Armenia 3,780 Christian-Democratic Revival Party 3,591 Youth Party 3,302 Marxist Party of Armenia 2,896 United Liberal National Party 2,748

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