Armenia’s Central Election Commission has officially announced Serzh Sargsyan as the winner of the country’s 18 February Presidential Elections. Sargsyan secured another 5-year term in office, after receiving around 59 percent of the vote, while the runner up, Raffi Hovannisian, took 37 percent. The election was steeped in controversy with claims of corruption, rigging, coercion, and ballot stuffing at polling stations, and with Hovannisian contesting the outcome.
On February 24, approximately 4,000 supporters of Hovannisian demonstrated in Yerevan to protest the election results, with more rallies set to take place.
The elections were monitored by the OSCE, who released their official statement the day after the elections, saying that clear improvements in the electoral process comparing to previously observed presidential elections, and the progress in other areas, including the media environment and the legal framework, were also witnessed. According to the OSCE’s statement:
“Armenia’s presidential election was generally well-administered and was characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms, including those of assembly and expression.”
The OSCE also noted however that the election lacked significant political debate and real competition–with some analysts arguing that the results of the election were a foregone conclusion. Armenian activists responded to the OSCE’s report requesting that the organization stop “legitimizing fraudulent elections in Armenia”, explaining in a statement:
“Even though on the surface there was the appearance that important democratic freedoms were being safeguarded during the campaign, including the right to run a free campaign, in reality, the campaign was noteworthy by its competitive inequality in favour of the candidate of the regime.”
The resulting peaceful protest rallies have evolved into a movement which is being called the ‘Barevolution’, an amalgam between ‘barev’ – Armenian word for ‘hello’ – and ‘revolution’. Rallies are being led by opposition candidate Hovannisian, who spoke before a crowd in Yerevan, exclaiming:
“We should carry on our fight calmly and according to the constitution. Our democratic movement will not stop, and we will achieve victory!”
Experts are questioning how influential such protests will be in pressuring the Armenian regime, as Kevork K. Oskanian (has explained:
“At the risk of sounding defeatist: the impediments to the barevolution’s success are, to put it mildly, formidable. ‘Raffi’, as he is known to his supporters, will have to mobilise a population that, since the violent suppression of anti-government demonstrations in 2008, has displayed extreme levels of political apathy and alienation. So far, attendance at the ‘barevolution’ rallies has been haphazard at best, with the largest attracting crowds of around 10,000 people, well below what most would consider the ‘critical mass’ required to affect fundamental change.”
Hovannisian has told journalists that he plans to visit 21 Armenian cities this week and will hold another protest in Yerevan on 28 February. Meanwhile, at the National Assembly meeting today, a debate was sparked as the MPs present were divided in their views of the election results. Heritage Party MP Roubik Hakobyan congratulated Raffi Hovannisian on his election as president, with Republican Party spokesman Edward Sharmazanov responding that “Whoever wants to be president should wait till 2018”.