Competing Claims to Armenia's Presidency
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan says he won a second term -- his rival (Sargsyan told RFE/RL he prefers the word "competitor") says, no, he did not. And with that, Armenia's stage is once again set for a potentially protracted political fray.
Cinching a reelection was expected to be a cakewalk for Sargsyan, who faced scattered opposition during the campaign. One rival was shot in an alleged assassination attempt, another bailed out, accusing the authorities of vote-rigging, and still another tried to starve himself into true democracy.
The rest of Armenia doesn’t seem to care about the presidential office too much. Eighty percent of 1,080 Armenians questioned for a recent survey by local pollster Sociometer don’t want to be presidents of their country.
The only other Armenian who wants to be president and put up a real fight for it is Raffi Hovannisian, the Fresno, California-born leader of the tiny opposition Heritage Party. Hovannisian claims that Sargsyan stole the victory from him through widespread funny business, ranging from bribery to ballot-box stuffing.
Speaking to reporters on election day, Hovannisian declared that “The people have won,” which is a politician’s euphemism for “I have won.”But not according to the preliminary official vote count, which put Sargsyan in the lead with just under 60 percent, while Hovannisian lags more than 22 percentage points behind.
Fraud, declared Hovannisian, who won 70 percent of the vote in Armenia's second-largest city of Gyumri, according to early data. His supporters said they will make public the alleged evidence to support his claim to the presidency. For their part, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights' observers
have declared that the poll respected "fundamental freedoms," though
cast a disapproving eye at the alleged abuse of government resources by
Sargsyan's ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
In the meantime, in that time-honored tradition, they're staging a protest in Yerevan's Liberty Square late this afternoon. But Hovannisian’s chances to challenge the outcome of the vote do not look very good. Pre-election opinion polls put him far behind the incumbent, and the helter-skelter opposition to the ruling establishment is believed to have led to voter apathy. “Sargsyan wins not because people trust him, but because people don’t trust the others,” Alexander Iskandarian, the director of Yerevan's Caucasus Institute think-tank, commented to the Kavkazsky Uzel news site .
But that does not mean that Hovannisian can’t kick up a storm. Local media reports that he might launch a round-the-clock series of street protests and legally challenge the official results, precinct by precinct.