By Astghik Bedevian
A former world boxing champion who unsuccessfully ran for Armenia’s parliament ended a five-day hunger strike on Monday after Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian promised to look into his allegations of vote rigging.
Israel Hakobkokhian, who had successfully represented the Soviet Union in amateur boxing competitions throughout the 1980s, stood as an independent in a single-member constituency in Yerevan’s southern Shengavit suburb. The election there was controversially won by Grigor Markarian, a businessman backed by Sarkisian’s governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
Both Hakobkokhian and Markarian’s main challenger, Heghine Bisharian of the opposition Orinats Yerkir Party, refused to concede defeat, alleging widespread vote buying and other violations. Bisharian reportedly plans to dispute the official results and demand their annulment in the court.
Hakobkokhian, who finished a distant third in the race, went on a hunger strike outside the Central Election Commission building with the same demands last Wednesday. He refused to end the protest despite CEC Chairman Garegin Azarian’s arguments that only Armenian courts have the authority to annul election results in majoritarian districts.
The boxer-turned-politician, known for his straightforward and eccentric rhetoric, warned that he will starve himself to death unless he is visited by Sarkisian. He claimed that local government and police officials in Shengavit allegedly involved in vote rigging told him that they acted on the Armenian premier’s orders.
Sarkisian paid a surprise visit to an exhausted but defiant Hakobkokhian early in the afternoon, embracing the ex-champion and asking him to end the hunger strike. The HHK leader declined a comment as he left the scene several minutes later.
“He said he will sit down and talk with me after I take some rest,” Hakobkokhian told RFE/RL. “I’m grateful to him for not putting my life at risk.”