By Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian’s apparent intention to secure a first-round victory in next February’s presidential election came under attack on Wednesday from opposition leaders who said that he is more concerned with staying in power than saving Armenia from more upheavals.
Kocharian told reporters on Tuesday that a one-round election would mean less political tension and thereby have a positive impact on the struggling Armenian economy. He said a broad opposition agreement to field a single presidential candidate would lessen the likelihood of a run-off vote.
“The economy will experience an upswing only if the people are convinced that their president was fairly elected,” said Vazgen Manukian, the leader of the National Democratic Union (AZhM), one of 16 parties that recently formed a loose alliance.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Manukian said Kocharian’s statement could mean that he is ready “to do everything to win in the first round.” “The words of a president who has sweeping political and economic powers will be interpreted by his subordinates as an instruction,” he said, warning of a massive vote rigging. He claimed that the incumbent president fears losing a second-round showdown with an opposition challenger.
A senior member of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), Stepan Zakarian, likewise dismissed Kocharian’s arguments as a mere pre-election ploy. “Such statements are nothing but a farce,” he said.
Another opposition figure, Artashes Geghamian, alleged that Kocharian is keen to avoid a run-off vote because “it is very difficult to repeat a falsification of election results.”
But opposition leaders differed in their comments on Kocharian’s surprise conclusion that their failure to nominate a joint candidate for the first round of voting will reduce, not boost, his reelection chances. “Kocharian will try to do everything to face only one challenger because that would facilitate his victory,” said Geghamian.
But Ashot Manucharian of the Socialist Armenia bloc questioned the sincerity of Kocharian’s declared interest in opposition unity. “He who made sure that A1+ [television station] was shut down will also make sure that the 16 parties do not unite,” Manucharian said.
Most local observers have believed until now that a joint opposition candidate would seriously complicate Kocharian’s efforts to win another five-year term in office by galvanizing the apathetic electorate. They have argued that Kocharian will find it much easier to win the ballot if he faces several major opposition contenders. The opposition parties’ apparent failure to agree on a single candidacy was thus seen as benefiting the incumbent.