With 65 percent of the vote counted, Acting President Robert Kocharian is projected to have received 39 percent of the overall vote, Karen Demirchian 28 percent, Sergei Badalian 14 percent and Vazgen Manukian 12 percent in the first round of Armenia’s presidential election on March 16. Eight other candidates split the remainder. The voter turnout was 65 percent. (Noyan-Tapan, AP, March 17) Kocharian and Demirchian should face each other in a runoff on March 30.
Six candidates, including Demirchian, Badalian and Manukian, have accused the authorities of boosting Kocharian’s score through intimidation of the voters and dishonest vote-counting. International observers have not confirmed these charges; but noted that the state-controlled electronic media favored the incumbent Kocharian.
The revelation of the first round is the size of the pro-Communist vote. The Armenian Communist party’s former First Secretary Demirchian and current First Secretary Sergei Badalian garnered a projected 42 percent of the vote between them. Their combined score is higher than that of the frontrunner incumbent, Kocharian. Demirchian ran as the candidate of Soviet nostalgia, Badalian as the candidate of Soviet restoration. (See candidates’ profiles in The Monitor, March 16) Badalian’s score shows only a part of the actual Communist strength, because many of his supporters went over to Demirchian. The latter additionally collected a large part of the usual protest vote, at the expense of most candidates but particularly of Badalian.
Demirchian was a late entrant in the race, and came under vehement attack from Badalian for splitting the Communist vote. Initially, Badalian had confidently expected to make it into the runoff, but was not taken seriously. Observers had generally estimated his support at some 3 to 5 percent of the vote. The first-round scores, however, would seem to substantiate Badalian’s claim regarding the prospects of a single Communist candidate.
The two will find it very difficult to join forces for the runoff. Demirchian bases his candidacy on his record as a former Communist leader, but does not offer a Communist program, which Badalian does. During the campaign, Badalian denounced Demirchian for having "betrayed" communism and having joined the ruling establishment. Barring some dramatic development during the two weeks until the runoff, Badalian can not credibly turn around and urge his supporters to vote for Demirchian. The latter will probably persevere in his strategy of offering to be all things to all people, also appealing to Badalian’s bedrock electorate but short of a formal deal with Badalian.
Former Prime Minister Reemerges as a Political Factor.