YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–The Central Electoral Commission announced the following preliminary election results: 1,458,135 voters–63.97 percent–of the total number of eligible voters–have participated in the polls. The votes scattered among the candidates the following way:
Robert Kocharian 545,843 or 38,82 percent
Karen Demirchian 430,530 or 30.62 percent
Vazgen Manoukian 171,834 or 12.22 percent
Sergey Badalian 154,997 or 11.02 percent
Baruyr Hairikian 76,009 or 5.41 percent
David Shahnazarian 6,891 or 0.49 percent
Artashes Geghamian 6,308 or 0.45 percent
Vigen Khachatrian 4,016 or 0.29 percent
Hrant Khachatrian 2,943 or 0.21 percent
Aram Sargssian 2,715 or 0.19 percent
Youri Mkrtchian 2,511 or 0.18 percent
Ashot Bleyan 1,563 or 0.11 percent
Yielding to Karen Demirchian–in Yerevan–160,834 to 174,137 votes–Robert Kocharian won in all other 10 regions garnering 382,662 votes. Demirchian garnered 252,083 votes in the provinces. Citizens of Armenia entered on foreign consular registers gave preference to Demirchian by offering him 3,310 votes–while Kocharian earned 2,347 votes.
US State Department Spokesman James Rubin a statement on Thursday–whereby the State Department supported the conclusions of OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission’s preliminary report on the March 16 presidential election in Armenia issued by Ambassador Sam Brown.
Rubin said that–in general–the campaigning was free and open and all the candidates had access to substantial coverage in state television and other media. "Voting proceeded in an orderly fashion in most areas–however–a number of problems were noted by Armenian political parties–the media–and international observers," Rubin said–adding "it is vital for Armenia’s democratic future that these problems be effectively addressed before the second round–in order that the March 30 run-off election produce a president with the democratic legitimacy to lead Armenia forward."
Rubin highlighted the following key areas of concern which require correction before the run-off: improper military voting–voting by non-citizen refugees and residents of Azerbaijan–misuse of state resources–interference by local authorities and security personnel–media bias.
While noting progress since the September 1996 presidential election–the US Department of State called on the Armenian government to take firm steps before the March 30 polling to address the specific problems reported by the international observers.
"We and the international community are hopeful that the second round of March 30 will be the opportunity for the government and people of Armenia to demonstrate Armenia’s irreversible commitment to democratic institutions and the rule of law," the statement read.
Raffi Hovannisian–Chief of the Armenian Department of Information and Publication–released the following statement on March 19:
"The first round of Armenia’s special presidential election was the most open and transparent in the nation’s history. The differences between the polls of 1995 and 1996–on the one hand–and March 16–1998–on the other hand–are qualitative–substantive–and tangible to all impartial observers–domestic and international.
There did occur–unfortunately–several confirmed irregularities of varying degrees. Those responsible must be brought to justice of the identity of the candidate in whose purported favor they acted. Such electoral violations form the basis of a preliminary report issued yesterday by the OSCE delegation monitoring the elections. In contrast with the findings of the Council of Europe and CIS observer missions–the OSCE asserted "deep flaws" at 15 percent of precincts visited and–among others–in the field of media bias. It concluded–nonetheless–that these flaws did not bear on the election’s ultimate outcome.
Without passing judgment on the content and context of the allegations made by the OSCE and by several presidential contenders–I would suggest that a thorough–comprehensive–and objective assessment of the media–both state and private–might have determined that notwithstanding certain bad media habits inherited from the previous political period–significant measures were indeed taken to ensure a level information field for all candidates – in terms of both access and substance. It might even be said that most departures from accepted journalistic standards had a net negative effect on the candidates for whom they were made. Moreover–the very right of immediate–on-the-air response afforded to critics of such behavior–together with the fact of open protest and its wide coverage–begs the conclusion of a marked improvement in media openness and balance.
There remains much to do in this area. Still–a determination–however preliminary–of media bias seems not to capture the full reality of the situation–and is particularly concerning as it comes from professional the media of whose countries are very active not only in investigative reporting but–when necessary–in the expression of political opinion.
We are hopeful that the second round of Armenia’s presidential elections on March 30 will be essentially free from the shortcomings of the first–that the media will continue to demonstrate their growing commitment to democratic development–and that relevant observers will contemplate the process in its entirety–making appropriate distinctions between procedural violations by partisans and ulterior provocations by election discreditors."
"On the whole–the presidential election in Armenia proceeded well," special representative of the election observation mission of the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Lord Russel Johnson said.
Observers visited 25 precincts in and around Yerevan. Johnson noted that areas of concern were mainly similar to those of 1996. However–he noted considerable improvement to the process compared to the 1996 vote.
The majority of violations observed were of technical character–such as open voting–stuffing of ballots into ballot boxes–presence of police at polling stations. The majority of the mentioned violations were caused by the "over-zealousness" of officials in the middle administrative structures.
Johnson said that the majority of reports made by the opposition regarding attacks on polling stations–rigged votes and participation of non-citizens in the vote could not be checked immediately and remained unconfirmed.
Lord Johnson said that the final report on the presidential election will be submitted to the regular session of the Assembly scheduled for April. He also said that a report on Armenia’s membership of the Council of Europe will be submitted to the Assembly.
Expert of the Council of Europe Bernard Owen told journalists that according to criteria of the newly-independent states "election proceeded well." Commenting on the statement of five presidential candidates deeming the election unfair and unfree–Owen noted–"If there are strong grounds for such a statement and it is not only a political one–there are structures which are authorized to pass a verdict–recognizing the election null and void. Democracy must not be confused with anarchy," he said.
"The first round of the March 16 early presidential election was normal and proceeded within the limits of law–and violations observed at certain polling stations and precincts may not have a significant impact on the final election returns. We believe that persons who committed the mentioned violations must be held responsible in accordance with the law," members of Justice & Unity stated.
Members of the organization expressed concern over the statement made by a number of candidates deeming the election unfree and unfair. According to Justice & Unity–at the time the statement was issued it was impossible to estimate the impact of violations on election returns.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation–the Ramkavar Party of Armenia–the Scientific-Industrial and Civil Union–and the Socialist Union of Armenia consider that the statement calling into question the entire election process has "purely circumstantial goals and may be used by certain forces outside the country."
"Among signatories to the statement–there are people who participated in the election to destabilize the political situation in the country. It is surprising that they were joined by people who contributed to the establishment and development of democracy in Armenia," the statement read.
Justice & Unity hope that presidential candidates will reconsider their stance and give impartial assessment of the current processes for the sake of the country’s stability.