Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has won re-election with more than 58 percent of the vote, official results showed, as his main rival cried foul.
The Central Election Commission said that tallies from all voting precincts showed former foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian trailing in a distant second place with 36.8 percent of votes cast in Monday’s election.
But Hovannisian insisted he was the real winner and called on Sargsyan to concede defeat, despite the official results which gave him 58.7 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 electoral violations, including the use of “vanishing ink” to allow multiple voting and “caravans” of taxis and buses to take pro-government voters to the polls.
However Eduard Sharmazanov, spokesman for Sargsyan’s ruling Republican Party, said exit polls showed the president “was the only favourite” 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 Sargsyan, president since 2008, set for re-election to another five-year term. The five other candidates were said to be scoring in single digits.
“These were shameful elections with a huge number of violations. The results of the exit poll do not show reality but what the authorities wanted.“
– Hovsep Khurshudian, Hovannisian’s spokesman
Former prime minister Hrant Bagratian was on course for three percent, as was the 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 – super-rich former arm-wrestling champion Gagik Tsarukian – said he was 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 Sargsyan to power in 2008 ended in clashes in which 10 people died.
Hovannisian said the election marked “the most crucial day in our country’s modern history” but denounced irregularities in voters’ lists and voting procedures.
“These were shameful elections with a huge number of violations. The results of the exit poll do not show reality but what the authorities wanted,” Hovannisian’s spokesman Hovsep Khurshudian told AFP.
He vowed that Hovannisian’s supporters would stage a protest on Tuesday evening.
International observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe have monitored voting and are set to give their verdict on Tuesday.
Sargsyan, 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 practised law in Los Angeles before moving to Armenia following its devastating December 1988 earthquake.