Republican Party Claims Victory in Parliamentary Elections

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) was on course to score a landslide victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections amid opposition allegations of vote buying and other irregularities.

The government-controlled Central Election Commission (CEC) said early on Monday that with about 75 percent of the ballots counted, the HHK won 49.2 percent of the vote. This should be enough for it to have an absolute majority in Armenia’s new parliament and stay in power.

According to the preliminary vote results released by the CEC, businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance was a distant second with 27.6 percent, followed by the opposition Yelk alliance (7.5 percent) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (6.7 percent), the HHK’s junior coalition partner.

The five other election contenders looked set to fail to pass the 5 percent and 7 percent vote thresholds for being represented in the National Assembly set for political parties and alliances respectively. They included former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s opposition Congress-HZhK alliance (1.6 percent) and the ORO alliance led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian (2.1 percent).

Opposition forces as well as independent election observers reported various irregularities, notably vote buying, throughout Sunday’s voting. The Citizen Observer, a coalition of Armenian civic groups that deployed over 3,000 monitors across the country, alleged numerous instances of electoral violation and manipulation. Those included vote buying, voter intimidation, and the presence of unauthorized persons inside polling stations.

“As a result, the issue of public trust in the elections has not been solved,” the Citizen Observer said in a statement released on Sunday evening. It said the elections did not mark “an improvement of electoral processes in the country.”

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Levon Zurabian, a leader of the Congress-HZhK, charged that the Armenian authorities held “yet another disgraceful election.” Zurabian accused the HHK of handing out vote bribes. He also claimed that government loyalists systematically breached the secrecy of the ballot to make sure that bribed or intimidated citizens vote for the HHK.

Aram Sargsyan, a Yelk leader, likewise alleged “disgraceful violations” and “widespread vote bribes in comments to 1in.am. “We will probably make a statement in the morning,” he said.

Armen Ashotian, a deputy chairman of the ruling HHK, insisted, however, that the elections marked a “leap forward” in Armenia’s democratization. No more than 10,000 votes might have been rigged, he said, adding that this could not have had a serious impact on the election results.

According to the CEC, almost 1.58 million Armenians making up nearly 61 percent of the country’s eligible voters cast ballots on Sunday.

Prime Minister Ebulient

Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan said on Tuesday, April 4, that his government has received a popular “mandate for change” and will strive to transform Armenia after winning Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

Topics: Election

“We are determined to put into practice the mandate for change given to us by the people,” Karapetyan said in a message on the election outcome posted on his Facebook page.

“Consistent and hard work awaits us,” he wrote. “Undoubtedly, a lot needs to be done but we are not afraid of the difficult path ahead.”

“I promise that we will spare no effort to create a new Armenia so that every citizen of our country feels better than they did before,” added the first deputy chairman of HHK.

Karapetyan personally conducted the HHK’s election campaign, pledging to implement “serious reforms” and attract large-scale investments in Armenia’s economy. He already unveiled an ambitious reform agenda shortly after being appointed as prime minister in September. Opposition leaders dismissed it as a publicity stunt aimed at facilitating the HHK’s victory in the April 2 elections.

The HHK leadership has made clear that Karapetyan will continue to serve as prime minister at least until President Serzh Sargsyan serves out his final term and Armenia becomes a parliamentary republic in April 2018. Sargsyan, who is also the HHK’s chairman, has still not clarified whether he plans to replace Karapetyan then. He has said only that he will continue playing a major role in “ensuring the security of our people.”

Karapetyan indicated earlier that he would like to retain his post after April 2018.

The 53-year-old premier did not say on Tuesday whether his cabinet formed in October will undergo changes as a result of the elections. Sargsyan and the HHK have also not made any public statements to that effect so far.

Irregularities Reported

Despite irregularities reported by international observers, the official results of Armenia’s parliamentary elections reflect “the overall will of the Armenian people”, the European Union (EU) said late on Monday.

A spokesperson for Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said that the EU will work closely with Armenia’s “democratically elected new parliament and government.”

In a statement, the official cited European observers’ preliminary conclusion that Sunday’s elections were marred by “credible information about vote-buying” and voter intimidation even though “fundamental freedoms were generally respected.”

“The election result nevertheless reflects the overall will of the Armenian people,” added the statement.

The statement insisted that electronic equipment installed in polling stations across the country prevented other, more serious irregularities. “Despite some minor technical problems, fewer irregularities concerning ballot box stuffing, double voting, counting and tabulation of results were recorded by observers,” it said.

Earlier this year, the EU provided the Armenian authorities with more than $7 million for the purchase of voter authentication devices and web cameras that recorded and broadcast through the Internet voting and ballot counting from the vast majority of polling stations.

There were serious problems with the online livestreaming during the first few hours of voting. Armenian officials attributed the disruptions to technical problems. Opposition politicians suspect political reasons for that, however.

The official EU reaction to the elections is a significant boost to the international legitimacy of the elections and the Armenian government. Most of the Armenian opposition election contenders have said that the ballot was not democratic because the ruling HHK won it through vote buying and abuse of its administrative resources. HHK representatives have brushed aside the opposition claims.

The EU statement also made clear that the 28-nation bloc will press ahead with the signing of a new agreement to deepen its political and economic ties with Armenia. The agreement was initialed in Yerevan two weeks before the elections.

“Once the electoral process has been completed, we look forward to working with the democratically elected new Parliament and Government to strengthen our political dialogue and continue our support to economic and social reform, including on the basis of the recently initialed EU–Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA),” said the statement.

President Sargsyan said last week that the CEPA will likely be signed at the EU’s next Eastern Partnership summit due in November. He claimed that his administration is committed to “building a European model of democracy” in Armenia.

The United States on Tuesday also gave a largely positive assessment of the conduct of the weekend parliamentary elections in Armenia.

“The US Embassy [in Yerevan] congratulates the people of Armenia on their April 2 parliamentary election, following a period of widespread competition among various parties and blocs in an environment that allowed all viewpoints access to the media,” read a statement released by the mission. “Election day was generally calm and orderly across Armenia and voters were able to freely exercise their right to vote.”

The OSCE-led mission, which also included representatives of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, did not report significant instances of multiple voting in its preliminary election verdict delivered on Monday.

The nearly 300 observers mostly deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitored voting and ballot counting in polling stations across Armenia on Sunday. They also included representatives of the European Parliament and the parliamentary assemblies of the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

“It is a pity that despite all of the legal and organizational changes these elections did not remove long-standing doubts about the reliability and integrity of electoral processes in the country,” Liliane Maury Pasquier of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) told a joint news conference with other heads of the monitoring mission.

“Regrettably, the process was undermined by credible, recurring information of vote buying, intimidation of voters notably civil servants in schools and hospitals and employees of private companies as well as abuse of administrative positions,” agreed Heidi Hautala, who led the observers from the European Parliament.

The mission was careful, however, not to name any Armenian party engaged in bribing or intimidating voters. It said only that these illegal practices, also reported by the Armenian opposition, media and observers, called into question Armenians’ “ability to cast their votes free of fear of retribution.”

The report assesses negatively the voting process in 12 percent of polling stations visited by the European observers due to problems such as overcrowding and violation of the secrecy of the ballot. “In addition, large groups of people were present in the immediate vicinity of polling stations in 30 per cent of cases, with tension seen in 6 per cent of observations and intimidation of voters in 4.5 per cent of observations,” it says.

The report also offers a negative assessment of 20 of 118 vote counts attended by the observers mainly because of “undue interference in the process” by unnamed party proxies. Also, it says, election officials in over a dozen polling stations “did not determine the validity of ballots in a consistent and reasonable manner.”

On the positive side, the reports notes, among other things, that “fundamental freedoms” were generally respected during the election campaign and that Armenian state television provided “equitable coverage” of their pre-election activities.

Tsarukian Vague On Post-Election Moves

Businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance, the runner-up in Armenia’s parliamentary elections, shed no light on its next political moves in its first reaction to the official vote results on Monday.

It also refrained from evaluating the Armenian authorities’ handling of the ballot strongly criticized by other, more hardline opposition groups.

According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), the Tsarukian Bloc came in a distant second, getting 27.3 percent of the vote which should translate into 30 seats in Armenia’s new 101-member parliament. President Serzh Sargsyan’s Republican Party (HHK) is projected to control 55 seats.

Tsarukian declared just days before the vote that his bloc is headed to victory.

“We have received a vote of confidence from more than 400,000 of our compatriots,” the bloc said in a written statement. “Rest assured that we highly appreciate every vote for us which obliges us to do everything within our power to move forward and develop the country.”

“We are very conscious of the seriousness of challenges facing our country and will do everything to address them,” it added.

The statement did not clarify whether the bloc will formally remain in opposition to Armenia’s government or seek a coalition agreement with the HHK.

Some Tsarukian aides ruled out the possibility of a power-sharing deal with the HHK during the election campaign. The tycoon himself was more ambiguous on that score, saying that he is ready to team up with political forces that will embrace his campaign platform.

Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the dominant force in the bloc, was part of Sargsyan’s government from 2008-2012. It withdrew from the ruling coalition amid mounting tensions with the president that culminated in a bitter confrontation two years ago. Tsarukian was forced to retire from politics at that time.

Tsarukian announced his return to the political arena in January, fueling media speculation that his comeback is the result of a secret deal with Sargsyan. BHK representatives denied that.

Opposition groups that have failed to win seats in Armenia’s new parliament on Monday condemned the authorities’ handling of the weekend elections but stopped short of calling for anti-government street protests.

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