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Armenians Return to Polls to Elect New President - 2003-03-05


After a tense two-week run-off campaign, Armenians are going back to the polls Wednesday to try and elect a new President. The first round failed to produce a clear winner and brought the opposition into the streets by the thousands claiming vote fraud.

Incumbent President Robert Kocharian fell just short of the simple majority he needed to win the election. His comfortable showing at the polls immediately led to opposition charges of ballot fraud, despite international observers saying they found less evidence of corruption than in Armenia's previous elections.

Mr. Kocharian says Wednesday's poll will be free and fair. Despite his assurances, analysts predict more protests if he wins a second five-year term, as expected.

President Kocharian has warned the opposition not to compromise security in the Caucasus republic. But the opposition is already calling for more protest rallies Thursday.

Mr. Kocharian's key challenger in the run-off is People's Party leader, Stepan Demirchian. Both candidates say they favor reform and resolving the 14-year conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.