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By Armen Zakarian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, one of Armenia’s most powerful men, confirmed on Wednesday media reports he is likely to become President Robert Kocharian’s election campaign manager.

“The likelihood of that is very high. But there has been no final decision yet,” he said at a roundtable discussion on Armenia’s foreign and security policy issues.

Sarkisian argued that such an appointment will be “logical” given the fact that he is a longtime close associate of Kocharian.

The two men come from Nagorno-Karabakh and led the Armenian-populated region during the 1992-94 war with Azerbaijan. They maintained their close personal rapport after being appointed to senior government posts in Yerevan, with Sarkisian acting as Kocharian’s most trusted ally since the latter’s election as president in 1998.

The 48-year-old defense chief has a huge political clout and reportedly controls some lucrative sectors of the Armenian economy. He is thus well placed to mobilize the support of various government factions and pro-presidential businesspeople for Kocharian’s reelection.

Sarkisian, however, downplayed the role to be played by chief of the Kocharian campaign. He also pledged to rule out the military’s involvement in the electoral process -- a major source of vote irregularities in previous Armenian elections.

“If I actively participate in the pre-election processes, that will be an additional guarantee that illegal methods will not used during the elections,” he explained, seeking to dispel concerns about the military’s possible involvement in politics. Sarkisian also argued that Armenia’s laws do not bar civilian defense ministers from engaging in political activities.
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