By Atom Markarian
President Robert Kocharian will cruise to a landslide victory in the first round of next week’s presidential election because his opposition challengers have failed to come up with credible alternatives, his campaign manager, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, said on Sunday.
“We were and remain confident that our candidate will win in the first round,” Sarkisian told a news conference in remarks apparently designed to persuade the public of the inevitability of Kocharian’s reelection. He claimed that the incumbent has run a vigorous and successful campaign and that a run-off vote would therefore be a big “surprise.”
Sarkisian also lashed out at almost all major opposition candidates, portraying them as weak and inexperienced politicians that are unable to deal with tough challenges such as the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“If he can not pronounce five sentences, how is he going to negotiate [with foreign states]?” the powerful minister asked, referring to opposition candidate Stepan Demirchian criticized by presidential loyalists for his poor oratorical skills and vague platform.
Also targeted was Artashes Geghamian, another top opposition contender accused by the pro-Kocharian media of populism and demagogy.
Sarkisian went on to contend that neither Demirchian nor Geghamian stands a chance of winning the Armenian presidency. “They are vying for second place,” he claimed.
According to recent opinion polls conducted by government-connected groups, Kocharian, 48, enjoys a huge lead over both men and will not even need a run-off vote to win a second term in office.
However, the opposition campaigners dismiss the polls, mainly cited by pro-presidential media, as a fraud. They allege that the authorities are preparing the public for a first-round Kocharian win to discourage opposition supporters from voting and legitimize possible vote rigging.
Sarkisian strongly denied opposition claims that his campaigners are using unfair and illegal methods to ensure Kocharian’s reelection. He argued in particular Armenian law does not bar government officials from participating in election campaigns. He said they do not campaign for Kocharian during their work hours or use their government resources.