PM favoured to win Armenia presidential vote

Agence France Presse, France
Feb 19 2008

PM favoured to win Armenia presidential vote

YEREVAN, Armenia (AFP) – Armenia’s Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian was
headed for victory in the country’s presidential election Tuesday, an
exit poll indicated, but his opponents cried foul and vowed to stage
a mass protest. Sarkisian won the election in a first round with 57.1
percent of the vote, according to the exit poll commissioned by
Armenian Public Television.

Former president Levon Ter-Petrosian came in second with 17.4
percent, while former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian came
third with 14.6 percent, according to the poll conducted by British
pollster Populus.

If confirmed by official returns, the poll victory would clear the
way for 53-year-old Sarkisian to take over from his close ally,
outgoing President Robert Kocharian.

With eight percent of the vote counted, Sarkisian was ahead with 53
percent, election officials said in televised comments. Figures for
other candidates were not provided.

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 on Wednesday.

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.

He also dismissed the exit poll result, saying "these figures have
absolutely no connection with reality. They were written by Serzh
Sarkisian’s campaign headquarters."

Voter turnout was 69.25 percent, the Central Elections Commission
reported.

Pre-election polls showed Sarkisian well ahead of his eight rivals in
the race to replace the long-serving Kocharian, who is
constitutionally barred from seeking a third five-year term.

"The most important thing is not how many rounds there are, but that
the election is conducted well and that its results are trusted by
the people," Sarkisian said after voting.

Opposition candidates had warned they would call street protests if
they believed the vote was unfair, raising fears of unrest in a
country known for its volatile politics.

At one Yerevan polling station Roland Serobian said he voted for
Sarkisian because of the prime minister’s promises to improve living
standards.

"I trust him. He’s a man of his word," the 76-year-old said. "Look
how much he has already done."

Kocharian handpicked the prime minister to succeed him after
Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia swept parliamentary polls
last May.

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.

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 and the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was to
issue a report on the election Wednesday.

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