By Emil Danielyan
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian announced at the weekend plans to take a three-month leave of absence and concentrate on President Robert Kocharian's reelection campaign, of which he will be the main coordinator.
Speaking before the top brass of the Armenian armed forces, Sarkisian again sought to allay opposition worries about the military's possible involvement in the upcoming presidential elections. In remarks broadcast on state television, he warned senior army officers against ordering their subordinates to vote for the incumbent president -- an illegal practice which was not uncommon during the previous polls.
Sarkisian's widely expected appointment as Kocharian's campaign manager is raising concerns that voting by the military will again be a major source of vote irregularities. But the powerful defense chief has brushed them aside, assuring critics that he will personally rule out any pressure on tens of thousands of army conscripts. He argues that Armenia's laws do not bar civilian defense ministers from engaging in political activities.
Sarkisian also announced that General Mikael Harutiunian, one of his deputies and the chief of the army staff, will perform the duties of defense minister in his absence.