Sargisian Wins Re-Election

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ADL US and Canada District Committee Congratulates President

By David M. Herszenhorn

YEREVAN (New York Times and Armenpress) — President Serge Sargisian easily won re-election to a second five-year term, according to preliminary returns released on Tuesday by the Central Election Commission.

The returns showed Sargisian with about 59 percent of the vote, enough to win the presidency outright and avoid a runoff. The former foreign minister, Raffi Hovanessian, was a distant second with about 37 percent, the returns showed.

Armenians went to the polls on Monday with Sargisian heavily favored to win and maintain stability in a country that has become an increasingly important, if uneasy, United States ally in monitoring Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

A veteran politician, Sargisian, 58, is generally viewed as having presided over modest economic improvements in recent years, even as the country has struggled because of closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, its enemy in a continuing war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabagh.

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But while Sargisian’s victory has been predicted for months, there have been some unexpected developments in the campaign. One challenger, Andreas Ghukasian, a political commentator who manages a radio station in the capital, Yerevan, has been on a hunger strike, demanding that the incumbent be removed from the ballot.

Another challenger, Paruir A. Hayrikian, was shot in the shoulder in late January in what the authorities described as an assassination attempt, although there was no known motive. He is a former Soviet dissident who promoted Armenian independence and has run unsuccessfully for president several times.

Hayrikian briefly considered invoking a constitutional provision to delay the election for two weeks as a result of his injury, but he ultimately decided to allow the balloting to proceed.

Sargisian’s second term will be watched closely for any sign of progress in resolving the war with Azerbaijan and for any indication that Armenia would reduce support for economic sanctions against Iran, as they make life more difficult in both countries.

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabagh continues at a low simmer with periodic violence along the line of contact, including frequent exchanges of gunfire and occasional casualties. Peace talks led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, which is led by the United States, Russia and France, have mostly stalled.

Armenia has traditionally relied heavily on Iran as an economic partner, but those ties are now constrained by the sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran insists its purposes are peaceful, but Western powers accuse Tehran of seeking the technology to build nuclear weapons and have imposed a broadening array of United States, United Nations and European Union sanctions.

Armenia has supported the measures, while continuing to engage in some trade that circumvents them, like swapping its electricity for natural gas from Iran with no money changing hands.

“Having Iran as your economic lifeline is not a good position to be in,” said one senior Western diplomat, who asked not to be identified to avoid creating any tension with players in the region.

“They have been very, very careful, very, very good, at some cost to Armenia, to honor international UN, US and EU sanctions against Iran,” the diplomat said. “But it’s increasingly difficult for them to do that.”

International election observers have fanned out across Armenia in recent days. Initial reports suggested that Sargisian’s party had made some inappropriate use of government resources to promote his candidacy, a common criticism of incumbent candidates in former Soviet republics. But observers say the overall political climate has improved, with opposition candidates, for instance, enjoying better access to coverage by the news media.

Still, Armenia faces a peculiar problem when it comes to potential election fraud because of the hundreds of thousands of Armenian citizens who live abroad, including in the United States — one of the largest percentage diasporas in the world given Armenia’s population of 3.1 million, according to the World Bank.

With few exceptions, absentee balloting is not permitted. That means the Armenian election rolls are filled with the names of people who will not appear in person to vote, creating the potential for fraudulent use of those names.

Sargisian faced relatively weak competition after his two strongest potential challengers and their parties announced last year that they would not compete — former President Levon Ter-Petrosian of the Armenian National Congress and Gagik Tsarukyan of the Prosperous Armenia Party. Tsarukyan is a wealthy businessman, lawmaker and the head of Armenia’s national Olympic committee.

Sargisian and his wife, Rita, paused Monday to speak with reporters after voting in Yerevan. “I have voted for the security of our citizens and our families,” he said, according to aysor.am, an Armenian news site.

Congratulatory Messages

Sargisian received several messages of congratulations upon winning the election. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin called Sargisian after the official preliminary results of the Armenian presidential elections had been publicized.

Putin said he is confident that the Armenian-Russian strategic partnership, cooperation, bilateral relations, which are growing, will keep developing steadily.

The president of the European People’s Party (EPP), Wilfried Martens, also congratulated Sargisian.

He said, “I warmly congratulate President Sargisian for his election victory and I look forward to personally congratulating him at the Enlarged EPP Summit of March 14. Also, I am pleased with the fact that these elections were the country’s best-ever organized and were mostly in line with international standards, as stated by the international election observation missions (OSCE, CoE, EP, ODHIR). I am confident that the country’s democratization process will be further enhanced under the leadership of President Sargisian.”

This victory represents clear support from the citizens for the democratic and economic forward movement, he said.

Martens also congratulated Heritage party leader Raffi Hovannisian for running a good campaign and scoring a strong election result.

The EPP is the largest and most influential European-level political party of the center-right, which currently includes 74 member-parties from 40 countries, the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, 15 EU and 6 non-EU heads of state and government, 13 members of the European Commission and the largest Group in the European Parliament.

Also, in the US, Edmond Azadian and Papken Megerian, cochairmen of the ADL District Committee of US and Canada, congratulated the president. The two said, “In this political climate, we consider Serge Sargisian to be the conscience of Armenian and its best hope for a stable future.”