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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Armenians Return to the Polls To Cast Ballots for a President

ReutersArmenian President Robert Kocharyan, left, and opposition leader Stepan Demirchyan voting in the run-off election Wednesday.
YEREVAN, Armenia -- Armenians on Wednesday voted in an election pitting incumbent President Robert Kocharyan against a strong opposition challenger after an acrimonious runoff campaign that strained the country's stability and tested its fledgling democracy.

Partial preliminary results gave Kocharyan a comfortable lead as the opposition claimed he sought to retain power by fixing the outcome.

With votes from 108 of 1,865 electoral districts counted, Kocharyan had 69.3 percent and his challenger, People's Party leader Stepan Demirchyan, had 30.7 percent, Central Election Commission chief Artak Sagradyan said. Turnout was 64.5 percent, officials said.

The runoff was forced when Kocharyan fell just short of the 50 percent he needed to win the Feb. 19 election outright, receiving 49.48 percent of the votes, according to official results. Demirchyan, received 28.22 percent, while seven other candidates were knocked out of the race.

After casting his ballot, Kocharyan, 48, said he was confident of re-election. He also used the opportunity to attack the opposition for alleging that the authorities were preparing to rig votes in his favor. "The opposition knows only seven songs and all of them are songs of protest," he said.

Demirchyan, 43, was also upbeat but said his observers had already spotted "mass irregularities" in the voting.

"After the voting, we will take appropriate steps in this regard," he said.

International monitors criticized the first round as flawed by incidents of ballot-box stuffing and intimidation.

Lord Johnson, leading a Council of Europe observation mission, said he had been assured by election officials that the run-off vote would be transparent and fair. However, he added skeptically, "They've all been promising. People do promise things, don't they?"