Sarkisian Officially Declared Election Winner

Astghik Bedevian and Ruzanna Stepanian

President Serzh Sarkisian was formally declared the winner of Armenia’s February 18 presidential election on Monday amid continuing opposition protests against the official vote results.

​​The Central Election Commission (CEC) approved and released the final results that show Sarkisian winning 58.6 percent of the vote. His main challenger, Raffi Hovannisian, finished second with 36.8 percent, followed by another opposition candidate, Hrant Bagratian (2.2 percent), according to the CEC.

The figures are practically identical with the CEC’s preliminary vote tally released on February 19. Hovannisian rejected it as fraudulent, saying that he is the rightful winner of the election. He also launched a nationwide campaign of anti-government rallies to demand a rerun of the vote.

The CEC’s pro-government chairman, Tigran Mukuchian, again rejected fraud allegations at a news conference that followed the publication of the final results. He insisted that irregularities reported by observers and opposition proxies were not serious enough to affect the election outcome.

Mukuchain said Sarkisian would still have had enough votes to secure reelection outright even if the CEC had accepted Hovannisian’s demands to invalidate official vote results in 118 precincts. There are about 2,000 such precincts across Armenia.

Western observers gave a largely positive assessment of the Armenian authorities’ handling of the ballot last week. But they said it was marred by the Sarkisian campaign’s misuse of administrative resources and undue interference in voting.

​​Hovannisian, meanwhile, maintained that he is the rightful winner of the ballot, denouncing the CEC decision as “illegal.” “Having full information about irregularities, ballot stuffing, violence, abuse of administrative resources … they must bear responsibility for that,” he told journalists.

Hovannisian also announced that he is likely to ask the Constitutional Court to scrap the official figures and call a repeat election. “I will do everything to ensure that the people are not disappointed and don’t back away,” he said. “And I don’t exclude that before we will appeal to the Constitutional Court the March 2 [legal] deadline.”

The U.S.-born oppositionist, who had served as Armenia’s first foreign minister, pledged to continue his nationwide protests at a rally held in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Sunday. He told several thousand people demonstrating there that he will tour three more Armenian provinces this week before staging a massive “national rally” in the capital on Thursday. He earlier urged supporters to prepare for a “prolonged struggle.”

Hovannisian on Monday also divulged more details of his surprise meeting with Sarkisian held last Thursday. He said the incumbent urged him to stop challenging the official vote results and start preparing for the next national elections “as the leader of the opposition.”

“I don’t need that. The Armenian people and their young generations will have asserted their constitutional rights by 2017-2018,” he said, adding that Sarkisian did not offer him any power-sharing deals.

Hovannisian said on Friday that Sarkisian rejected his calls for the holding of fresh presidential or parliamentary elections.