“Aravot” and “Haykakan Zhamanak” say Sunday’s unexpected televised debate between Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and opposition candidate Artashes Geghamian has prompted various conspiracy theories. Geghamian’s supporters say their leader “beat” Sarkisian with his arguments. Some Kocharian allies share this view and are said to demand explanations from Sarkisian.
According to “Haykakan Zhamanak,” Sarkisian has said privately that he “lost deliberately” in order to boost Geghamian’s approval ratings and thereby dissuade him from withdrawing his candidacy in Stepan Demirchian’s favor.
“Aravot” takes a similar view. The paper says Geghamian is reinforcing belief that he is “Serzh’s man” and is playing into the regime’s hands.
But as “Iravunk” writes, a rare appearance of an opposition leader on state television “threatens to become a real shock for the regime.” The paper notes that Robert Kocharian’s campaign manager was verbally defeated by Geghamian “surprisingly easily.” “That televised defeat can not fail to affect Kocharian’s rating and, more importantly, the mood of the state apparatus.”
“Hayots Ashkhar” predicts that both Demirchian and Geghamian will stay in the presidential race. Geghamian, the paper says, will not endorse Demirchian for fear of losing political capital. Geghamian won only 0.4 percent of the vote in 1998 and needs a strong showing to remain a major political player. The same is true for another opposition leader, Vazgen Manukian, who enjoys clear “intellectual superiority” over other opposition contenders. Manukian’s supporters would not forgive him a decision to support Geghamian, Demirchian or anyone else.
“Orran” quotes opposition candidates’ campaign managers as saying that Kocharian is increasingly losing his appeal to voters as evidenced by the growing number of people attending opposition rallies. They also see growing popular demands for a single opposition candidate. But an official at Kocharian’s campaign headquarters assures the paper that the incumbent’s positions are “as strong as ever.”
A senior member of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party, Vagharshak Harutiunian, tells “Haykakan Zhamanak” that the opposition will succeed in fielding a joint candidate. Harutiunian says his name will be announced at a “nationwide rally” in Yerevan on February 8.