By Shakeh Avoyan
President Robert Kocharian enjoys a double-digit lead over his nearest challengers but is not popular enough to win outright in the first round of the February presidential elections, according to a recent opinion poll conducted by an Armenian non-governmental organization.
Gevorg Poghosian, chairman of the Armenian Sociological Association, said on Wednesday that about 30 percent of people randomly interviewed across Armenia said they will vote for Kocharian. Poghosian claimed that two opposition leaders, Raffi Hovannisian and Artashes Geghamian, came a distant second, having only 10 percent each.
Revealing the polling data to RFE/RL, he said that none of the other opposition leaders, including Stepan Demirchian and Vazgen Manukian, was endorsed by more than 5 percent of respondents.
Opinion polls have been notoriously incorrect in Armenia, leading to accusations of government manipulation. Their findings are therefore treated with caution by many political observers.
But Poghosian insisted that Kocharian’s approval ratings are much higher than those of other presidential contenders. “About a third of Armenian voters have already decided to vote for the current president of Armenia,” he said.
Kocharian has previously indicated his intention to win the ballot in the first round. Some opposition leaders view that as a sign that the state apparatus, which is able to affect vote results in Armenia, will be instructed to secure such an outcome at any cost.
Asked about Hovannisian’s popularity, Poghosian said the U.S.-born former foreign minister has a “great potential” to make a strong showing in the February 19 elections if he is registered as a candidate by the Central Election Commission (CEC). Some CEC officials have said privately that Hovannisian is not eligible to run in the elections because he has not been an Armenian citizen for the past ten years, as is required by the constitution.
Speaking to RFE/RL on Tuesday, Hovannisian again insisted on his eligibility and vowed to fight for his registration. Hovannisian, who is a lawyer by training, also stressed that Armenia’s electoral legislation must be “applied equally” to all presidential hopefuls, a veiled reference to the fact that Kocharian has not resided in Armenia for the ten previous years. “I stand for an equal and legitimate application of that law,” he said.