According to a letter from then U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Yerevan Joseph Pennington dated March 10, 2008, there was "mounting evidence" to suggest that then Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian did not, in fact, defeat seven rival candidates to win a clear first-round victory in the February 19 presidential election. The U.S. State Department characterized the vote as "significantly flawed."
According to the official election results announced on February 24, Sarkisian polled 52.82 percent of the vote, a little more than the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a second round runoff. His closest challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, reportedly garnered just 21.5 percent, but Pennington wrote that "the true figure is doubtless substantially higher...somewhere between 30-35 percent." Pennington predicted that in the event of a runoff, Ter-Petrossian would very probably have beaten Sarkisian.
Pennington went on to suggest that while Sarkisian benefitted from the falsification, the instigator may not have been Sarkisian but outgoing President Robert Kocharian and what Pennington termed "other influential antidemocratic forces" whom he did not name.
In another WikiLeaks disclosure, Pennington reported that Valeri Poghosian, one of Armenia's nine Constitutional Court justices, told U.S. Embassy officials at a secret meeting at his Yerevan home on March 6, 2008, that Kocharian "engineered" a decision by the court to reject Ter-Petrossian's appeal against the official election results.
Asked by RFE/RL to comment on Pennington's suspicions that the election outcome was rigged in Sarkisian's favor, Azarian admitted on September 6 that "there were violations" in the course of the voting but denied flatly that the results were rigged. "Those are different things," he said.
Azarian further cited observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as saying the vote was "mostly in accordance" with democratic standards.
Azarian's tone during that conversation was unapologetic, and he showed no signs of stress or ill health.
In late 1998, former Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghian told RFE/RL the 1996 Armenian presidential election was falsified to avoid the need for a runoff between incumbent President Ter-Petrossian and opposition challenger Vazgen Manukian (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," December 29, 1998).