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Observers: Armenian Vote Lacked Competition


President Serzh Sarkisian about to cast his ballot on February 18.
President Serzh Sarkisian about to cast his ballot on February 18.
International observers say Armenia's presidential vote was an improvement on recent elections but was not genuinely competitive.

Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on February 19 that the election, which President Serzh Sarkisian won with more than 58 percent of votes, was peaceful and generally well conducted.

A written statement said Armenia will need more competition in order to build "a vibrant and engaging democracy."

The head of the OSCE's election observation mission in Armenia, Tonino Picula, said that the "limited field of candidates narrowed the choice for the voters."

"While those candidates who did run were able to campaign freely and present their views, the campaign overall failed to engage the public's interest," Picula said.

Several of Sarkisian's opponents decided not to run because they feared the election would be skewed in favor of the president.

Armenia's Central Election Commission released the vote counts from all precincts on February 19 which showed Sarkisian garnered some 58 percent of the vote.

Sarkisian thanked his supporters in Yerevan, saying he was "grateful, very grateful to our voters, grateful to our society."

"This election proved once again that our people can unite at the decisive moment and make the right decision. This election was about choosing our way [for the future]," he said.

U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian came in second with 36.7 percent of the vote.

He has refused to concede defeat and has accused authorities of carrying out fraud to ensure Sarkisian receives another five-year term.

Officials have acknowledged reports of violations but have rejected claims of a voting-fraud conspiracy.

Assassination Attempt

Eduard Sharmazanov, a spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party, said the campaign was competitive and democratic.

Voter turnout was some 60 percent.

The campaign was marred by an assassination attempt that wounded one of Sarkisian's rivals, Paruyr Hairikian, and a hunger strike by another, Andrias Ghukasian.

The voting also included a protest by anti-Sarkisian activist Artur Minasian, who ate his ballot at a polling station to draw attention to what he called “political prisoners” jailed by authorities.
Officials from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reported apathy and a lack of confidence in the electoral process among the public when they visited Armenia in January.
The OSCE said some 290 observers from 38 countries took part in monitoring the election in the country of some 3 million people.
It was Armenia's fifth presidential election since the country gained independence in 1991.
Sarkisian, 58, has vowed to lead an economic recovery in landlocked Armenia and to maintain stability amid continuing tensions with neighboring Azerbaijan over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inside Azerbaijan.
Armenia's economy remains hobbled by a trade blockade imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan since a 1990s war over Nagorno-Karabakh.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and Interfax

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