By Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian signaled on Tuesday his intention to win an outright majority in the first round of next February’s presidential election and avoid a run-off vote two weeks later. He argued that two rounds of voting could destabilize Armenia and hurt its struggling economy.
“If it becomes possible to hold only one round of elections, then [political] tension will last less, which would have a positive effect on the economy,” Kocharian told an improvised news conference in an open-air Yerevan café.
Kocharian said he would like to face a single candidate representing Armenia’s leading opposition parties because “in that case, the likelihood of a one-round presidential election will be greater.” “It would be very unfortunate if those 16 opposition parties [that joined forces recently] fail to unite and come up with one candidate,” he said, taking journalists by surprise.
Most local observers believe that a joint opposition candidate would seriously complicate Kocharian’s efforts to win another five-year term in office by mobilizing the disgruntled and apathetic electorate. They say Kocharian will find it much easier to win the ballot if he faces several major opposition contenders.
The formation earlier this month of the 16-party coalition was touted by the opposition as the first step towards an agreement on who should be its single candidate. However, differences have already emerged inside the would-be electoral alliance, with one of its outspoken representatives, Artashes Geghamian of the National Accord party, staking a claim to opposition leadership to the dismay of his partners. Several other opposition leaders are also thought to be reluctant to withdraw their candidacy in anybody’s favor.
Kocharian, further stunning the press corps, declared that he is ready to help the opposition agree on its joint presidential candidate. Most of his bitter opponents will likely find the suggestion offensive and humiliating. They have repeatedly accused him of planning a massive vote rigging. His apparent desire to win in the first round could fuel more such accusations.
Kocharian, who became president in 1998 in a two-round election strongly criticized by international monitors, is widely believed to have already started his reelection campaign. He spoke to reporters on Tuesday after inspecting the ongoing massive reconstruction of streets in central Yerevan funded by Kirk Kerkorian, the U.S. billionaire of Armenian descent.
The Karabakh-born president increasingly visits various parts of the country to inspect functioning businesses and scold underperforming local governments in front of television cameras. His frequent public appearances, extensively covered by the pro-presidential media, are seen as public relations stunts designed to put a brave face on Armenia's persisting economic troubles.