By Armen Zakarian
The governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) expects to win at least one third of seats in the country's parliament in the May 25 legislative elections, its campaign manager said on Tuesday.
Galust Sahakian predicted that the HHK, which is led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, will have the largest faction in the next National Assembly, putting it in a position to retain its grip on the executive. "We hope to get at least 44 seats in the [131-member] National Assembly," he told RFE/RL. "The elections will show whether or not that will happen."
The Republicans hold 33 seats in the outgoing assembly and enjoy the backing of about dozen independent deputies. Their strong presence in the country's leadership is increasingly challenged by other political groups supporting President Robert Kocharian.
The biggest of them, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Orinats Yerkir, openly criticize Markarian's government in their campaign speeches. According to most opinion polls published so far, the two parties are now more popular than the HHK is shown having less than 5 percent popular support. The figures were dismissed as incredible by Markarian on Monday.
The most popular of the contenders, according to those polls, is the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance of Stepan Demirchian, Kocharian's main challenger in the recent presidential election. Another major opposition force, Artashes Geghamian's National Unity, is also expected to do well in the polls.
However, Sahakian claimed that Artarutyun and National Unity will not win more than 12 percent of the vote each. Together, he said, they will get up to 25 seats only.
The Republicans pin big hopes on the 56 single-mandate constituencies where their substantial government and financial resources will seriously help their candidates. They fielded only 22 candidates there though. The remaining 75 seats are contested on the party list basis.