By Ruzanna Khachatrian, Karine Kalantarian, Shakeh Avoyan and Hrach Melkumian
The four-week campaigning in the Armenian presidential race officially drew to a close Monday, with incumbent Robert Kocharian and the eight other candidates making final efforts to win over the voters. All major contenders sounded upbeat about their electoral chances.
Some of them, including Stepan Demirchian, chose not to hold any campaign gatherings, taking some rest ahead of Wednesday’s voting.
Kocharian again pledged to ensure the freedom and fairness of the ballot and expressed confidence in his reelection as he campaigned in Yerevan’s northern Kanaker-Zeytun district. “I would very much like my victory to be fair and convincing,” he told supporters there.
Kocharian claimed that Armenia has had the most democratic presidential campaign in its history. “For the first time the top brass of the army is not taking part in the process in any way,” he said. “The police, prosecutors, the tax inspectorate and customs officials are also not involved in the campaign.”
Leaders of pro-presidential parties addressing the rally echoed Kocharian’s confidence. “I am convinced that we will win,” said Tigran Torosian of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). “We will win by a convincing margin.”
Kocharian wrapped up his government-sponsored campaign late in the evening with a final televised address to the nation in which he again stressed positive changes achieved during his presidency and urged Armenians to keep him in office for another five years. The speech coincided with a pop concert in his support staged on Yerevan’s main square.
Meanwhile, the campaign manager of Demirchian, Kocharian’s main challenger, expressed optimism about the opposition leader’s chances of victory. In an interview with RFE/RL, Grigor Harutiunian said the Demirchian campaign got off to a slow start, but then gained momentum and “snowballed” into big rallies in Yerevan and outside it. “We have broken the atmosphere of fear and revived the people’s hope,” he said.
Demirchian said on Sunday that his victory is a forgone conclusion.
His main opposition rival, Artashes Geghamian, also struck an optimistic note as he toured the northeastern Tavush and Gegharkunik regions. “Every time I speak, the Yerevan ambulance service gets hundreds of additional calls from government officials having have heart problems,” he declared at a rally in the Gegharkunik capital Gavar.
One of Geghamian’s top aides, Koryun Arakelian, also sounded very confident: “Wherever we go, the sun emerges from the clouds.”
Another major opposition candidate, Aram Karapetian, ended his campaign, which he described as a “triumph,” with a rally in central Yerevan. “The opposition will score a victory on February 19. That possibility is real,” he told several hundred supporters.
Also addressing the rally was Hayk Babukhanian, Karapetian’s campaign chief beaten and stabbed by Kocharian supporters in the southern town of Artashat earlier this month. He was discharged from hospital earlier on Monday.
The attack on Babukhanian was the only serious violent incident reported during the campaign. The opposition candidates claim to have faced other obstacles as well, citing in particular a biased coverage by the pro-Kocharian state television and the main private channels. They say Kocharian’s campaign tactics has been unfair and at times illegal.
One of the opposition candidates, Vazgen Manukian, warned that the voting day could see more serious irregularities.
Political observers believe that the four-week campaign has seriously boosted public interest in the elections and reduced the number of undecided voters. But as the final day of campaigning showed, quite a few people remained unimpressed by the candidates.
“All they do is to praise themselves, while we stay as we are,” said one woman in Gavar. “I don’t see any difference between them.”
(Photolur photo: Kocharian cheered at Monday's rally in Yerevan.)