Its Opposition Hushed, Weary Armenia Accepts Vote Results


As Army tanks withdrew from the main square of the Armenian capital of Yerevan Sept. 28, opposition leaders resigned themselves to living with the results of elections they charge were rigged to give victory to President Levon Ter-Petrossian.

Troops continued to seal off the radio and television center, while riot police guarded a favorite opposition rallying point. About 250 people, including prominent politicians, remained in custody after a violent demonstration last week.

The leaders of almost all of Armenia's major opposition parties are now either jailed or have gone underground. Defeated presidential candidate Vazgen Manukian now says he doesn't expect further trouble. "There is going to be no civil war in Armenia, no big demonstrations, or prolonged chaos," Mr. Manukian told the Monitor in an exclusive interview. "You need to be pragmatic in politics; there is no point in hitting your head against a brick wall."

Mr. Manukian, wanted by police for his role in the storming of the parliament building Sept. 25, is currently in hiding. He said that he had no hopes of overturning the official results of the Sept. 22 poll, which he said had been heavily falsified.

The Central Electoral Council, dominated by Mr. Ter-Petrossian's supporters, announced Sept. 27 that the president had won 51 percent of the vote, against Manukian's 42 percent. That ensured a first-round victory for the president and prevented a runoff.

An election monitoring team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a preliminary report that it had found "very serious" breaches of electoral law, but that that these "do not seem to have materially affected the outcome of the election."

Manukian, who headed a five-party opposition coalition, claimed that tens of thousands of ballots were falsified to push Ter-Petrossian over the 50 percent mark needed for outright victory.

Paruir Hayrikian, a veteran nationalist leader who joined Manukian's alliance, called on foreign governments and human rights groups to rectify the situation, but held out little hope. "Under the pressure of international opinion, new elections might be held, but I am not confident that will happen," he said in an interview.

President Ter-Petrossian, however, offered little consolation to the losers in a Sept. 30 televised address. He made no reference to demands for a recount, nor to a post-election wave of arrests. He did, however, pledge that "a struggle against illegalities and corruption will be launched," and he promised a "serious" Cabinet reshuffle.

Corruption, poor administration, and the average Armenian's drastic economic situation are the main complaints among people here. Armenians are also exhausted by the privations brought on by the eight-year war with neighboring Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabagh, a predominantly Armenian enclave on Azerbaijani territory. Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey have imposed an economic blockade of Armenia proper.

The widespread allegations of vote rigging in the presidential elections have cast a shadow over Armenians' hopes of democracy after its hard-won independence from the Soviet Union. Armenians have often compared with pride their tradition of political stability to the unrest in neighboring states such as Georgia and Azerbaijan.

"Levon Ter-Petrossian does what he likes and that's all there is to it," said one passerby, who preferred not to be identified, as he eyed the riot police around Opera Square, a traditional rallying point where Ter-Petrossian himself often addressed pro-independence demonstrations in the late 1980s. "What can we do about it?"

The offices of two leading opposition parties, Manukian's National Democratic Union and Mr. Hayrikian's Union for National Self Determination, have been closed by police since violence broke out at an opposition rally Sept. 25. About 1,000 demonstrators broke into a meeting of the Central Electoral Council at the parliament building and beat up the speaker and his deputy.

With the largest opposition group, the Dashnak Party, suspended since the end of 1994, all serious opposition is now banned. Condemning the violence at the parliament, Hayrikian worried that the authorities have found an excuse to clamp down harder.

"This was the mistake they needed to liquidate the opposition," he said. "It will be used as a pretext to repress the opposition and the people."

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