Armenia's Kocharyan Wins 2nd Term

APDemirchyan waving to about 10,000 supporters after he lost Wednesday's election.
YEREVAN, Armenia -- Armenian President Robert Kocharyan won a new five-year term in office Thursday, but international observers said his victory in a run-off was marked by widespread ballot-box stuffing.

Supporters of defeated opposition challenger Stepan Demirchyan called a demonstration in the center of the capital to denounce the outcome of the poll. Each side has accused the other of fraud in a grueling campaign.

Hamlet Abrkhamyan, deputy chairman of the Central Election Commission, told state television that with virtually all the votes counted, Kocharyan had polled 67.5 percent and Demirchyan had captured 32.5 percent.

"These figures mean that Robert Kocharyan has won the presidential run-off," Abrkhamyan said.

Both camps braced for disturbances.

After the Feb. 19 first round of voting, tens of thousands of opposition supporters gathered in the streets of the capital, Yerevan.

"We witnessed unprecedented violations today. These violations, which were well-organized, threaten the poll's legitimacy," Grigor Arutunyan, Demirchyan's campaign head, told a news conference Wednesday, the day of the run-off vote.

International observers noted numerous instances of cheating in the former Soviet state, where previous elections have been plagued by upheaval.

"Yesterday's presidential elections in Armenia fell short of international standards," Peter Eicher of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told reporters.

"We are disappointed. We hoped for better," he said.

Asked whether violations were sufficiently serious to invalidate the run-off, Eicher said: "That's not our job. That is the job of the Armenian people. ... Our job here is to assess the election against international standards."

The president fell just short of the required 50 percent for outright victory in the first round on Feb. 19.

Tens of thousands of protesters poured into the center of Yerevan for a series of demonstrations to demand a recount.

Observers had been less harsh in their criticism of the opening round, saying only that the counting process was flawed and that the overall election process had fallen short of international standards.

Lord Russell-Johnston, head of a group of monitors from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, also expressed disappointment with the conduct of the run-off.

"My small team actually saw a ballot-box stuffing case," he said.

The opposition accuses Kocharyan's supporters of ballot-box stuffing, voter intimidation and other underhand tricks, but the president's campaigners returned the fraud charge.

"We have heard of many instances of ballot-box stuffing and attempts by Demirchyan's official representatives to disturb the normal process of the election," said Vahagn Mkrtchyan, spokesman for the president's campaign.

Kocharyan will now have to expend new efforts to tackle Armenia's long-running Nagorny Karabakh crisis with Azerbaijan, which holds the key to stability in the oil-rich Caspian region.

Armenian support for their ethnic kin who pushed the Azeris from the region in six years of war is the root cause of severe economic strain in the country.