Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 61

Armenia’s voters are choosing today between prime minister and Acting President Robert Kocharian and the former Communist party leader Karen Demirchian in the runoff election for president of the country. The first round of the election, held on March 16 and involving twelve candidates, ended inconclusively. Kocharian’s and Demirchian’s platforms are for the most part couched in generalities and differ only marginally from one another. But their personalities, backgrounds and alliances differ considerably (see Monitor, March 12 and 16, for the candidates’ profiles and platforms).

The period between the first round and the runoff has maximized the incentives for both candidates to attempt to be all things to all people. The only significant policy difference between them concerns Karabakh. Kocharian, formerly president of that unrecognized republic, is committed to maintaining for as long as possible the status quo (which favors the Armenian side), ultimately to negotiate a "package deal": trading Armenian-occupied territory in Azerbaijan proper in return for security guarantees and political status to Karabakh. Demirchian, who has no record of involvement with the Karabakh issue, implies that he keeps his options open and suggests that he is well placed to negotiate directly with his Soviet-era friend, President Haidar Aliev of Azerbaijan.

Kocharian, who obtained 39 percent of the vote in the first round, and Demirchian, who obtained 31 percent, have used the two-week interval to the runoff in wooing the electorates of the third-placed and fourth-placed candidates: National Democratic Union leader Vazgen Manukian and Communist party First Secretary Sergei Badalian, who finished with 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively, in the first round (see Monitor, March 16 and 18, for their profiles and platforms and the first-round election returns). Manukian, although a nonCommunist, has refused to endorse Kocharian, whom he considers a would-be authoritarian ruler. Badalian, the Communist, has refused to endorse his predecessor as party leader, whom he considers a betrayer of the cause and a convert to the business and political establishment.

Manukian and Badalian have asked their respective voters to follow their individual conscience in the runoff balloting. Self-Determination Union leader Parvir Hairikian, an anti-Communist who finished with five percent in the first round, has reached a political agreement with Kocharian and endorsed him. Few local observers venture to predict the outcome of today’s runoff. But many of them, as well as the international monitors, are concerned about possible electoral fraud engineered which may be engineered as in 1996 by the military and security apparatus, which now supports Kocharian. (This preview of the runoff draws on Armenian media coverage of the campaign).

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