By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A top loyalist of President Robert Kocharian predicted on Thursday an easy victory for the latter in the February 19 presidential elections, underscoring his intention to avoid a run-off vote with an opposition contender.
Tigran Naghdalian, head of the staunchly pro-Kocharian state television and radio, claimed that the incumbent already enjoys nearly 50 percent approval ratings and faces no serious rivals.
Most Armenian opinion polls, whose accuracy is questioned by political analysts, give Kocharian substantial leads over the main opposition candidates, but indicate that he would not garner more than 30 percent of the vote at this point. But Naghdalian countered that the poll results are based on the assumption of a 100 percent voter turnout. Kocharian’s election score will therefore be much higher, he claimed.
Kocharian, revealing his hopes to win outright in the first round of voting, said last October that a run-off vote would mean additional political tensions and financial costs for Armenia. He said he therefore hopes that the winner will emerge as a result of the first round.
The comments were construed by Kocharian’s opponents as a clear signal to the state apparatus to ensure his victory at any cost. They accused him of planning to falsify the ballot. Kocharian, however, has pledged to ensure its freedom and fairness.
Naghdalian told RFE/RL that his Armenian Public Television, which is often hostile to the opposition, will offer an unbiased coverage of the elections and respect a legal provision guaranteeing them 60 minutes of free air time. They can also buy at least hours of extra time for campaign ads.
Under a timetable approved by the Central Election Commission, campaigning for the polls will officially start on January 21 and end on February 17, two days before the voting.