By Anush Dashtents
Armenia’s largest independent election monitoring group on Friday accused President Robert Kocharian’s campaign managers of breaking the law to ensure his victory in next week’s presidential election.
The organization, called the Choice Is Yours, said the participation of various-level government officials across the country in the incumbent’s reelection campaign is accompanied by the use of government funds and property, which is prohibited by Armenia’s electoral legislation. It claimed that several government ministers have illegally instructed their subordinates to vote for Kocharian.
Many of Kocharian’s campaign offices are run by government officials and even based in government buildings. This fact has prompted strong protests from the opposition candidates who fear a government manipulation of the February 19 ballot. Kocharian, however, has repeatedly pledged to ensure its freedom and fairness. He argues that he is popular enough to win a second term in office in a clean vote.
But a spokeswoman for the Choice Is Yours, Hasmik Sargsian, noted that most government officials have joined the election campaign without taking a leave of absence as Kocharian’s campaign manager, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, did last November. She said simultaneous work for the government and the Kocharian campaign leads to a conflict of interests and is therefore illegal.
The election monitoring group also believes that Armenia’s state television and the main private channel provide a highly biased coverage of the campaigning by promoting Kocharian and attacking his opponents.
Sargsian further accused the authorities of using double standards in the registration of presidential candidates, pointing to the Central Election Commission’s decision to bar opposition politician Raffi Hovannisian from contesting the elections on the grounds that he has not been an Armenian citizen for the last ten years. She said the CEC failed to apply the same standards to Kocharian and another opposition candidate, Aram Karapetian.
Under the election law, presidential candidates must also have resided in Armenia during the previous ten years. Kocharian was the president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic until 1997, while Karapetian has lived in Moscow for many years.
The Choice Is Yours, which monitored the previous Armenian elections and criticized their handling, will again deploy hundreds of election observers all over the country on the voting day.