Despite Protests, Armenia Leader Declares Victory

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Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan declared victory in his bid for another five-year term Monday, riding roughshod over large opposition protests and observers’ complaints of irregularities in Sunday’s election.

“It’s a brilliant victory,” Ter-Petrosyan declared in a rambling speech televised to his supporters. His senior aides looked exhausted and stony-faced, drawing deeply on cigarettes.

Official but incomplete returns gave the incumbent 57% of the vote to 37% for Vazgen Manukyan, his former prime minister and nearest rival. It appeared that two-thirds of the votes had been counted by Monday night, but officials reading from crumpled scraps of paper could not say for sure.


Manukyan claimed widespread fraud and declared himself the winner with as much as 60% of the vote. “Our country has many faults. But we will fight to the end,” he told one of a series of rallies that ended with a march to parliament by 30,000 people chanting “President Manukyan!” The crowd was generally calm, but some demonstrators tore down Ter-Petrosyan campaign posters.

Sergei Badalyan of the Communist Party was a distant third in the vote count with 5%, and Ashot Mancharian, the president’s former national security advisor, had less than 1%.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the election, is expected to declare today whether it was free and fair. International observers reported widespread irregularities last year when Ter-Petrosyan’s party won parliamentary elections.

Although Western diplomats said they doubted any large-scale fraud this time, there were many independent reports of irregularities and cheating by local activists of the ruling party.

“There were extra voting lists, voting stations with pictures of the president, election officers opening votes before putting them in the boxes,” said British election observer Mark Almond. “There was also the usual pressure [on voters] from the government.

“More worrying, perhaps, was the low turnout, which shows that perhaps people are losing faith in the whole democratic process,” he added. In this election, turnout dropped so that just over half the eligible voters cast ballots.


Both leading candidates were Soviet-era dissidents who came to power as the Soviet Union was collapsing. But Manukyan broke with the president and campaigned against his economic record. Dissatisfaction with Armenia’s post-Soviet hardships ran so high, especially in the cities, that a first-round victory by the incumbent had been considered unlikely.

Even if he survives the postelection outcry and keeps his job, diplomats here said Ter-Petrosyan might feel obliged to make concessions--such as sacrificing his prime minister, a young free-market advocate, or loosening the budget.