In an interview with “Aravot,” Hovik Abrahamian, the minister for local government and the deputy chief of President Kocharian’s reelection campaign, denies allegations that he was behind the recent stabbing of opposition deputy Hayk Babukhanian in his native town of Artashat. “I am very offended by this slander,” he says. Abrahamian says Babukhanian is himself to blame for the incident. He complains that the Kocharian campaign is “too passive” in responding to opposition accusations of unfair play. “They are going beyond all boundaries by disseminating insults and things like that.”
Abrahamian also rejects opposition claims that the authorities are planning a massive vote falsification. He insists that Kocharian’s campaigners do not collect passports from voters. “Why should they collect passports?” he asks.
According to “Haykakan Zhamanak,” the head of the OSCE monitoring mission, Peter Eicher, knows the answer to that question. Eicher is quoted as suggesting that Kocharian supporters will thus be able to vote for several times under different names. “I want to be an optimist, but must say that there are a number of problems which have troubled me after my arrival in Armenia,” he says, pointing to the Artashat incident and the use of government resources by the Kocharian campaign. “We have also noticed that the public media have been actively campaigning for the incumbent president, even though they must be impartial.”
“Orran” accuses the authorities of unleashing a campaign of “electoral terror.” “But they don’t realize that all this testifies to a strong sense of panic reigning among them and has opposite effects.
“Azg,” on the other hand, deplores opposition actions “escalating the atmosphere” in the run-up to the elections. “Slander voiced on behalf of the people continues to intensify,” the paper says, accusing the opposition of planning large-scale “provocations.” “It is already obvious that the main goal of the opposition liken these elections to the 1996 elections.”
“Hayots Ashkhar” continues to predict a first-round victory for Kocharian, saying that his two main challengers, Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian, will be easily “knocked out.”
The Dashnaktsutyun weekly “Yerkir” urges its readers to vote for Kocharian. The paper says the February 19 election represents a “choice between light and shadow.” A Dashnaktsutyun leader, Armen Rustamian, argues that although “numerous problems” remain unresolved and corruption is still rampant in Armenia, there is a strong government commitment to addressing them.
“Iravunk” alleges that the authorities are now fully using their “arsenal of dirty electoral techniques.” “It is already clear that without a massive use of rough force the presidential elections will be doomed to require a second round,” the paper says, adding that the opposition would have good chances of defeating Kocharian in a run-off vote.