By Shakeh Avoyan in Vartenis and Ruzanna Khachatrian in Ararat
Aram Sarkisian, an opposition candidate and former prime minister, stepped up his attacks on President Robert Kocharian on Friday as he campaigned in the eastern Gegharkunik province of Armenia.
Meeting with local residents, Sarkisian sought to portray the incumbent as a wily politician who relies on powerful patrons and betrays them after strengthening his hold on power.
“In Karabakh, he worked as president under Samvel Babayan,” the ex-premier said, referring to the jailed Karabakh general who was once the region’s most powerful man.
“When he came to Armenia, he worked as president under Vazgen Sarkisian and Karen Demirchian,” he added, mentioning the two charismatic leaders of the governing Miasnutyun bloc assassinated in the Armenian parliament in 1999. “Now he works as president under [Defense Minister] Serzh Sarkisian. So let Serzh keep all that in mind.”
The bitter slur, voiced in the provincial town of Vartenis, echoed the latest verbal exchange between the two presidential contenders. Earlier this week, Kocharian accused the ex-premier of seeking “political dividends” from the parliament killings. Sarkisian responded by renewing his implicit allegations that the shooting of Vazgen Sarkisian, his brother and predecessor, Demirchian and six other officials was orchestrated by Kocharian.
Sarkisian left no further indications as to whether he will stay in the race or withdraw from it in support of another, more popular opposition candidate. Some observers expect that he will eventually endorse the late Demirchian’s son Stepan.
Kocharian, meanwhile, campaigned in Sarkisian’s native province in southern Armenia, again accompanied by top government officials and leaders of loyal political parties, including Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
“I assure you that our country is an organized one,” an HHK leader, Galust Sahakian, said in a speech at a pro-Kocharian rally. “From now on, we will follow the path of development. And on behalf of thousands of Republicans, I call upon you to elect Robert Kocharian president on February 19.”
Addressing the rally, one of the local villagers compared Kocharian with the famous Brazilian soccer star Pele, saying that continuously holding a senior government post is tantamount to physical fitness. “We have to jointly score several goals in the next few years,” Kocharian replied.