Supporters of Armenian presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisian are gathering this evening in central Yerevan for what Hovannisian called a "celebration of victory", but more questions than answers exist about the claim.
The official returns for the February 18 vote placed the American-born Heritage Party leader far behind incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan, but Hovannisian claims this is a result of his votes being stolen. Sargsyan failed to convince his challenger otherwise during a tête-à-tête yesterday in the presidential residence, and Hovannisian emerged from the talks insisting that he would press on.
“My dear compatriots . . . we are defending our Constitution, our rights,” he declared to protesters in Liberty Square. “This is not about the fight between Raffi and Serzh, but about the future of the Republic of Armenia and its citizens.”
Mindful of the ten deaths that followed the last time there was a presidential election fight, both sides appear to be approaching the conflict with some degree of caution.
The presidential administration released a little video teaser of the closed meeting between the two men. “You look kind of sad,” Sargsyan told Hovannisian with a disarming smile -- an observation which his rival denied, also with a smile.
But amidst all the platitudes, the outcome of this face-off is no less critical. The options for Hovhannisian's supporters essentially boil down to preparing for the next elections, preparing for a revolution or preparing to come to terms with Sargsyan, ArmeniaNow reported.
Hovannisian promised to disclose the details of his talks and propose a future course of action at the rally today.
While there is little concrete evidence of Hovannisian’s claims to a complete, national victory, Armenians have many reasons to be skeptical of the outcome of the election. Many are posting online alleged videotaped evidence of ballot-stuffing. Some angrily protested in front of the Yerevan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The ultimate question could be if Hovannisian's rally will widen -- senior members of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation have joined the Liberty Square protest -- or, like so many protest movements before his, slowly wither away.