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Armenian Electoral Outcome Overshadowed by Fraud Claims - 2003-05-26


Preliminary results from Sunday's Armenia elections indicate parties loyal to President Robert Kocharian will end up with a comfortable parliament majority. With one-third of all votes counted, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia is leading with 22 percent of the vote. But as in past elections, the opposition and western election monitors are charging fraud.

For the second time this year, the outcome of a vote in Armenia is being overshadowed by claims of electoral fraud. Armenia had been hoping to avoid that kind of criticism this time, after March presidential elections were marred by widespread claims of ballot-box stuffing.

Following that vote, the Council of Europe warned that Armenia must stage a clean election next time around, or give up its claim to be a democratic state.

In assessing Sunday's vote, the Vienna-based Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe noted some signs of progress since March, but it said the latest vote shows the country still has a long way to go toward meeting international voting standards.

An OSCE statement expressed concern about a number of violations reported in full view of election monitors, including falsification of results and intimidation of international observers.

But the mission reserved its strongest criticism for a shooting outside a polling station in southern Armenia, during an inspection by international election monitors. One man was killed in the attack and several others injured.

The French news agency, AFP, quoted the OSCE Ambassador in Armenia Robert Barry as saying one can only imagine what other violations took place in more remote locations.

Sunday's parliamentary poll was the first since eight senior officials, including Armenia's prime minister, were gunned down in a 1999 shooting spree in parliament.

Central Election chiefs have dismissed the fraud claims in this vote and said the election's validity will become clearer as the results are finalized.

Armenians also voted on numerous Constitutional amendments Sunday, most of them technical in nature. Here, too, the opposition is crying foul, saying the amendments would serve only to boost President Kocharian's powers, rather than that of parliament.

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