Friday, December 09, 2005

Armenian Speaker To Send `Evidence Of Vote Rigging' To Prosecutors

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 12/09/2005

By Astghik Bedevian

Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian insists that there were serious irregularities during last month's constitutional referendum and will present relevant `facts' to law-enforcement authorities, an aide said on Friday.

`Is there a person who says there wasn't [ballot stuffing]?' Samvel Balasanian, who leads the parliament faction of Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) party, asked at a news conference.

`There are facts proving this,' he said. `The chairman of the National Assembly has stated that he will submit them to the Prosecutor-General's Office.'

Baghdasarian raised eyebrows within Armenia's governing coalition last week when he said that there were serious instances of ballot box stuffing during the November 27 referendum. That led Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian to ask the speaker to send him concrete facts substantiating the claims.

Orinats Yerkir's coalition partners, the Republican Party (HHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), are clearly unhappy with Baghdasarian's statements. Dashnaktsutyun's parliamentary leader, Levon Mkrtchian indicated that Orinats Yerkir should have shared its concerns with its government allies before publicly giving more weight to opposition allegations that the vote was blatantly rigged. He said Dashnaktsutyun is unaware of the content of the letter which Baghdasarian will send to the prosecutors.

The speaker's remarks were openly criticized by an HHK leader, Galust Sahakian, last week. But Sahakian played them down on Friday, dismissing talk of a renewed rift within the presidential camp. `No relationships have been severed, and we all continue to respect each other,' he told reporters.

Hovsepian separately instructed his agency to look into newspaper reports of ballot stuffing, voter intimidation and other irregularities and see if they warrant criminal investigations. No such investigations have been announced yet.

The United States and the European Union have urged the Armenian authorities to investigate the fraud reports and punish delinquent election officials. However, nobody has been prosecuted in Armenia for electoral crimes in the past and few observers think anyone will be held accountable this time around.

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