MOSCOW -- Robert Kocharian was formally declared Armenia's second president yesterday as the nation avoided both a return to the Communist past and the tanks in the streets that accompanied the previous presidential election.
Despite the burnish of nostalgia and last-minute momentum, Armenia's former Communist Party ruler, Karen Demirchian, faltered in a run-off election Monday, taking 41 percent of the vote.
Kocharian, 43, Armenia's prime minister and its acting president since February, had about 59 percent of the vote with 99.4 percent of polling stations counted, according to the nation's Central Elections Commission.
Demirchian, who is 66 and resembles Ronald Reagan, had emerged from among 12 contenders -- some of them with strong democratic credentials -- to challenge Kocharian in the runoff.
Demirchian's press secretary complained yesterday that the election was flawed by ballot stuffing.
But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the irregularities would not have changed the outcome. About 150 foreign monitors under the auspices of the OSCE observed the Armenian elections.
"Overall, these elections are a step forward from the troubled 1996 elections toward a functioning democracy," an OSCE statement said yesterday.
Similar complaints about irregularities were made after parliamentary and presidential elections in 1995 and 1996. In 1996, when protesters questioning the results marched in the streets of Yerevan, the Armenian capital, President Levon Ter-Petrossian sent out tanks to scatter them.
Those tactics cast a pall over his presidency and eventually led to his resignation in February.
Armenians consider this election a pivotal point in their long history, determining their place in the changing landscape of the Caucasus, where the United States, Iran, Russia and Turkey are jockeying for influence.
Western diplomats had been quietly hoping for Kocharian to prevail as the candidate considered more interested in closer relations with the West than with Russia. Kocharian's energetic style was appealing to Armenians, but some were suspicious of him because he had been president of Nagorno-Karabakh and only recently became involved in Armenian politics.
Nagorno-Karabakh has been the object of a war between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan that ended in an uneasy cease-fire in 1993. The territory, populated mostly by ethnic Armenians, lies within Azerbaijan. Though Armenia won the war and Nagorno-Karabakh has been operating as if it were an independent country, its status is still a matter of dispute.
The United States is eager for regional stability that would protect the oil in neighboring Azerbaijan. Such stability is elusive until the Nagorno-Karabakh question can be solved.
Vartan Oskanian, Armenia's acting foreign minister, says Kocharian is the man most likely to find a solution. As former president of Nagorno-Karabakh and as the fighter who organized the war for independence, he has enormous credibility, Oskanian says. He is one of the few politicians who may be able to find a compromise.
"I can only come up with the Nixon analogy," Oskanian says. "As a tough anti-Communist, [U.S. President Richard M.] Nixon was the only one who could go to China."
Pub Date: 4/02/98