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Armenian president wins disputed re-election

AFP-JIJI

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian has won re-election with more than 58 percent of the vote, official results published Tuesday showed, as his main rival cried foul.

The Central Election Commission said that tallies from all voting precincts following Monday’s election showed former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian trailing in a distant second place with 36.75 percent of votes cast.

However, Hovannisian insisted he was the real winner and called on Sarkisian to concede defeat, despite the official results that gave him 58.64 percent of the votes.

Referring to himself, Hovannisian said: “Our people deserve a de jure elected president.”

Hovannisian’s camp has alleged a range of sometimes bizarre electoral violations, including the use of “vanishing ink” to allow multiple voting and “caravans” of taxis and buses to take progovernment voters to the polls.

However, Eduard Sharmazanov, a spokesman for Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party, said exit polls showed the president “was the only favorite” and called the vote “the best in the history of independent Armenia,” rejecting allegations of fraud.

Police also dismissed the allegations as an “obvious fiction.”

Voter turnout was 60 percent in the polls seen as a crucial democratic test for the former Soviet state.

A Gallup exit poll had also found Sarkisian, president since 2008, set for re-election to another five-year term. The five other candidates were said to be scoring in single digits.

Former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian was on course for 3 percent, as was Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hayrikyan, according to the exit poll.

The outcome had become predictable back in December, when the highly popular leader of the Prosperous Armenia party — wealthy former arm-wrestling champion Gagik Tsarukian — said he had decided to bow out of the race and Armenia’s first post-Soviet president, Levon Ter-Petrosian, said he was too old for the country’s top job.

The election was clouded both by the lack of strong opposition to the incumbent, and a mysterious assassination attempt against Hayrikyan last month.

The authorities were hoping for a peaceful process that would improve the country’s chances of European integration.

The vote that brought Sarkisian to power in 2008 ended in clashes in which 10 people died.

Sarkisian, 59, is a veteran of the 1990s war with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh and derives much of his popularity from a tough, can-do militaristic image.

Hovannisian, 54, was born in the United States and practiced law in Los Angeles before moving to Armenia following its devastating December 1988 quake.