Sarkisian set to win Armenian presidential vote

AP News
Posted: Feb 19, 2013 2:35 AM
Sarkisian set to win Armenian presidential vote

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenia's incumbent President Serge Sarkisian has won a second term in a national election, preliminary results showed Tuesday. International observers say the poll "lacked competition."

Sarkisian received nearly 59 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff, Tigran Mukuchian, chairman of the country's Central Election Commission, said Tuesday.

The closest of his six rivals, American-born Raffi Hovanessian, who was post-Soviet Armenia's first foreign minister, got 37 percent of the vote.

Votes from all polling stations have been counted but the winner will not be officially declared until next Monday. A runoff would be required if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

Just over 60 percent of Armenia's 2.5 million eligible voters cast ballots in Monday's election, members of the election commission said.

Observers of the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe say the election "lacked competition" although they noted improvements over the previous poll.

OSCE observers noted that the fact that several influential politicians decided not to run may have "contributed to apathy and a lack of trust among voters."

Observer mission chief Tonino Picula said Tuesday that competition is "critical" if Armenia wants to live up to democratic aspirations.

The 58-year-old Sarkisian was widely expected to win. He has overseen a return to economic growth after years of stagnation, although the former Soviet republic still suffers from widespread poverty. World Bank figures for 2010, the most recent year tallied, show nearly 36 percent of the country living below the national poverty line. Average wages are about $300 a month.

The landlocked country's economy is hobbled by the longstanding closure of its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey, both connected with the occupation by Armenian troops and ethnic Armenian local forces of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. That conflict shows no signs of imminent resolution despite years of international mediation attempts.

The top challenger, Hovanessian, earlier Tuesday complained that the election was unfair and rigged, claiming ballot box stuffing and cases of voters being coerced to back Sarkisian.