Armenian president set to win in disputed polls

Incumbent Serzh Sarkisian was set to win Armenia's presidential election with over 58 percent of the vote, according to near-total official results, with his main rival crying foul early Tuesday.

The Central Election Commission said tallies from nearly 90 percent of the voting precincts, following Monday's election, showed former foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian in second place with 36.95 percent.

Hovannisian swiftly insisted he was the real winner and called on Sarkisian to concede defeat.

However Eduard Sharmazanov, spokesman of Sarkisian'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.

But, referring to himself, Hovannisian said: "Our people deserve a de jure elected president."

Hovannisian's camp has alleged a range of sometimes bizarre 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.

Police have 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 also found Sarkisian, president since 2008, set for re-election to another five-year term.

The five other candidates were all said to be scoring in single digits.

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 Sarkisian 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.

Sarkisian, 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.

All the candidates made populist promises to fight poverty and unemployment.

The World Bank estimates that 36 percent of Armenians live below the poverty line, while economic hardship and unemployment have driven nearly a million Armenians out of the country over the past two decades.

But campaigning has also focused on Armenia's long-running disputes with neighbours Turkey and Azerbaijan.

No final peace deal has been reached with Azerbaijan over the Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani region of Nagorny Karabakh as the risk of a new conflict remains palpable.

  • COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more Sat, Apr 19, 2014
    COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more

    Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are … Continue reading →

  • Driving a $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder to the future Sat, Apr 19, 2014
    Driving a $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder to the future

    It’s more than just its inherent speed, or the whooshing noise that fills the cabin like a school choir jamming with James Hetfield. It’s what it represents in an industry full of skeptics. It’s a portal into the future – a time capsule left by some mad scientist born decades too soon. It’s something that shouldn’t exist. And yet it does.

  • COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more
    COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more

    Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are … Continue reading →

  • 5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus
    5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus

    As Christians worldwide gather for Easter to celebrate their belief in the death and rebirth of Jesus, researchers continue to delve into the mysteries that surround the man. The following are five questions about Jesus that, for now, at least, remain unanswered. In 2008, astronomer Dave Reneke argued that the Star of Bethlehem (a celestial event long associated with Jesus' birth) may have been Venus and Jupiter coming together to form a bright light in the sky. Other researchers have claimed that a similar conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter occurred in October of 7 B.C. Still others have claimed that Jesus was born in the spring, based on stories about shepherds watching over their flocks in fields on the night of Jesus' birth — something they would have done in the spring, not the winter.