Armenian PM wins presidential vote

Updated on Feb 20, 2008 12:37 PM IST
As per official results, Armenia's Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian wins the country's presidential election, but his opponents cry foul and vow to stage a mass protest.
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AFP | ByMichael Mainville, Yerevan

Armenia's Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian has won the country's presidential election, official results showed on Wednesday, but his opponents cried foul and vowed to stage a mass protest.

With 97.5 per cent of the vote counted, Sarkisian had 844,088 votes, compared to 344,619 for his nearest rival, former president Levon Ter-Petrosian, according to official results shown on Armenian Public Television.

That gave Sarkisian 52.7 per cent of the votes counted so far, followed by Ter-Petrosian with 21.5 per cent and former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian with 16.8 per cent.

The poll victory clears the way for 53-year-old Sarkisian to take over from his close ally, outgoing President Robert Kocharian.

Even before polls had closed, Ter-Petrosian's campaign team had denounced the vote as a fraud and called for a mass rally in the capital Yerevan on Wednesday.

The call to protest raised fears of unrest in a country known for its volatile politics. Tens of thousands gathered for opposition rallies ahead of the vote.

Ter-Petrosian, Armenia's president between 1991 and 1998, said election day had been marred by serious violations.

"Very dirty things are happening," he said after voting.

His campaign spokesman Arman Musinian said that dozens of Ter-Petrosian's supporters had been beaten Tuesday across the country. He also claimed that ballot stuffing, multiple voting and voter intimidation had been widespread.

"It's already clear that this is not an election. This is an attempt by the authorities to seize power," Musinian told AFP.

Voter turnout was 69.25 per cent, the Central Elections Commission reported.

Kocharian handpicked the prime minister to succeed him after Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia swept parliamentary polls last May. After two five-year terms, Kocharian was constitutionally barred from running again.

The two are long-time associates, both hailing from Azerbaijan's rebel Nagorny Karabakh region.

Together they have been credited with ensuring relative stability and strong economic growth. But critics accuse the government of tolerating widespread corruption and cracking down on opponents.

Analysts predict Sarkisian will follow in Kocharian's footsteps, pursuing close ties with Moscow and a hawkish stance in relations with neighbouring Azerbaijan and Turkey.

The latter two have cut diplomatic ties and sealed their borders with Armenia over its support for Armenian separatists in Nagorny Karabakh.

Ankara has also been angered by Yerevan's campaign to have the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire recognised as genocide.

Ter-Petrosian has called for a more conciliatory approach with Azerbaijan and Turkey, saying the government has left Armenia deeply isolated.

About 600 foreign observers were monitoring the vote. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was due to issue a report on the election on Wednesday.

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