While Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his political opponents bitterly disagree about the legitimacy of the president's recent re-election, both loyalists and opposition parties are dissatisfied with the Armenian Constitutional Court's handling of the disputed voting results. The court upheld Kocharian's election on appeal from Stepan Demirchian, the opposition candidate, who charged that government workers falsified results. Yet the court attached a recommendation to its decision, advocating a popular referendum within a year. The referendum proposal prompted Kocharian to brand the entire decision "incomprehensible."
Kocharian's April 22 condemnation came six days after the court issued its decision, which painted an embarrassing picture of the president's re-election in March. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The court's ruling admits that violations "that are incompatible with the further development of democracy" occurred at "separate polling precincts" during the voting and subsequent vote count. Given the controversy over voting irregularities, Kocharian's presidential mandate could be viewed as a potential violation of Armenia's obligations under international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Constitutional Court decision suggested.
In conclusion, the court shared the concerns expressed by monitors from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe about violations of electoral procedures. [For background, see the Eurasia Insight archives]. It ruled that law-enforcement officials, including judges and prosecutors, failed to act adequately in many instances. Yet the court ultimately upheld the Central Electoral Commission's March 11 decision to declare Kocharian the winner.
The Court found that the number of proven violations did not provide a basis for voiding the elections. Demirchian and his supporters could document irregularities at fewer than 300 out of 1,864 precincts, even though anecdotal and popular reports indicated violations occurred throughout the country. Local observers believe that this lack of documentation largely reflected the weakness of Demirchian's team relative to Kocharian's. Enjoying the support of all state bodies, Kocharian had a much easier time documenting his case. At the same time, the nine-member court opted to address the opposition's grievances through a non-binding recommendation for a referendum to confirm the election results.
While some opposition groups declared the referendum proposal offered indirect recognition of Kocharian's illegitimacy, most expressed disappointment that the court cited a lack of quantitative evidence to avoid a decision about nullifying the results. "The Constitutional Court is the puppet of Kocharian," shouted a headline in the anti-Kocharian Aravot daily. Most of the opposition found the decision incomplete: Grigor Haroutiunian, a Demirchian ally, said most opposition leaders consider the decision neither a defeat nor a victory for Kocharian.
Meanwhile, the president criticized the court's decision during an appearance before university students in Yerevan on April 22. He directed his ire at the appeal to both the executive and legislative branches to organize a "Referendum of Confidence" within a year. The court said such a popular referendum could provide an "effective means of overcoming the deep-seated public standoff." Kocharian insisted such a referendum would do more than validate Demirchian's claims about cheating, according to the Mediamax news agency. Kocharian went on to warn that a referendum could cause a "schism in society."
Kocharian's forces have sought to discredit the referendum recommendation. "If there is a hint at seizure of power in the country, the Constitutional Court must display the civil will and make a decision on invalidating the results of the elections. Meanwhile, the decision means that irrespective of the violations and irregularities the president was elected by a majority of votes," stated Vahan Hovhannisian, one of the leaders of the pro-Kocharian Armenian Revolutionary Federation, or Dashnaktsutiun.
The Noyan Tapan news agency quoted the president's press service as saying a vote of confidence would be redundant: "Robert Kocharian got the vote of confidence as a result of the elections
Haroutiun Khachatrian is a Yerevan-based writer specializing in economic and political affairs.