- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 March 7, 2003 

Like Starting all Over: Runoff campaign begins with charges and counter charges

The Central Elections Commission on Tuesday released final results of the February 19 Presidential Election voting, with only minor changes in the preliminary totals. The final tally is: Robert Kocharyan, 700,808 (49.4 percent); Stepan Demirchyan, 399,757 (28.2 percent) and Artashes Geghamyan, 250,145 (17.8 percent).

Campaigning for next Wednesday's runoff officially began today with a press conference by Kocharyan and a mass demonstration of Demirchyan supporters.

The President told journalists that he would not be persuaded by pressure from the Opposition. Addressing statements by third-place candidate Artashes Geghamyan suggesting that Demirchyan should refuse to participate in the "illegal" runoff Kocharyan said:

"They can participate or not. Either way there will be a runoff and I am sure that in the runoff I will have an earnest victory."

Kocharyan accused the Opposition of using "hysterics" and criticized those who made provocative statements, including "seizing power by force".

The President said the Republic's highest post is under attack by those "who spread false data, and make anti-constitutional calls. Who will be responsible for possible consequences?"

As it is considered part of the official campaign season, today's rally did not require municipal sanction.

"It is not excluded, however, that there will be arrests," said Dustrik Mkhitaryan, Demirchyan headquarters spokeswoman. "They can call it violation of public order and start detaining."

The Demirchyan rally began at 4 p.m. in front of the Museum of Manuscripts at the top of Mashtots Avenue.

"Up till now no one has been brought to responsibility for voting violations," Demirchyan told a crowd about the size of Sunday's demonstration which was estimated to be at least 40,000. "At the same time my proxies have been arrested, people who fought against those falsifications. I demand that political persecution be stopped. Kocharyan's slogan 'Let's work together' means 'Let's violate together, let's falsify together'."

Thirteen parties were represented at the demonstration in which they presented a statement demanding the resignations of Minister of Defense Serge Sargsyan, Minister of Transportation and Communication Andranik Manoukyan, Minister of Regional Government Hovik Abrahamyan and Hayk Harutyunyan, Chief of Police of Armenia.

The statement also called for the release of Demirchyan supporters arrested following previous rallies and for the Council of Justice to discuss whether judges who sentenced those supporters should maintain their positions.

The Opposition is also calling for the dismissal of Artak Sahradyan head of the Central Electoral Commission and for a criminal case to be started against him. Further it is demanding the resignation of the head of the State Television, Alik Harutyunyan. (The Opposition charges that state-sanctioned broadcasts do not accurately represent their actions.)

Before the rally left Matenadaran and headed up Baghramyan to the Presidential Residence, Demirchyan predicted the outcome of a possible television debate. But he put conditions on any agreement to participate in such debate.

"I am sure that I will win in the debates just like I won in the elections," Demirchyan said. "But I am not going to debate someone who is sponsoring criminals (those who perpetrated election fraud). When he punishes them I shall go to a debate."

Yesterday the Chief Prosecutor's Office said it has received seven reports on falsifications concerning the February 19 elections. Criminal proceedings have been instituted in three cases, however no arrests have been made.

Also yesterday the Ministry of Justice reported that 125 citizens have been charged for actions relating to three days of street demonstrations. Seventy have been sentenced to 15 days in jail and 55 were fined from 500 to 1,500 drams (about 85 cents to about $2.50).

The Ministry of Justice press secretary said that some of the arrests were of people with criminal pasts including assault and illegal possession of firearms.

"The social affiliation of the detained people clearly shows that apart from ordinary people, there were criminal elements amongst the protestors, who usually achieve their goals through illegal actions," said Ara Sagatelyan.

Many of those still detained are proxies of Demirchyan who participated in demonstrations, however there are also people among them who have nothing to do with those headquarters.

Arsen Hovhanisyan of Yerevan, claims he was arrested because he voted for Demirchyan.

"The day after the elections he told his neighbor that he had voted for Demirchyan," says Hovhanisyan's aunt, Anahit. "The next day three people came to his place and said that nothing had happened they will just go and come back soon and he was taken away. Later we knew that he had been arrested for 15 days. Arsen sent a message to us so that we don't worry and that he will be set free soon."

Consistent with other accounts, there are reports from the region of arrests being made before charges were filed and of people being tried in closed session.

(ArmeniaNow reporter Marianna Grigoryan contributed to this report.)
Media agency Internews has released to its website a short video clip of voters giving their accounts (in Armenian) of alleged election violations. Click here to find the clip.


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  Photo of the week
  Head of State
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Head of State

President Robert Kocharyan was elected to a second term.



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