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By Ruzanna Stepanian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s victory in next year’s Armenian presidential election is inevitable, a senior member of his Republican Party (HHK) said on Tuesday.

“The impending victory of the Republicans is inevitable,” said Armen Ashotian, who is also a parliament deputy. “Even though a democratic process always requires the existence of alternative candidates in elections, there is no alternative to Serzh Sarkisian’s victory.”

“I think that even our most bitter opponents don’t doubt that and that is the reason for their nervous behavior,” he claimed.

The HHK is widely expected to officially nominate Sarkisian as a presidential candidate at a congress scheduled for October. The Armenian premier, who is also believed to be President Robert Kocharian’s preferred successor, effectively confirmed his intention to run for president following his party’s landslide victory in the May 12 parliamentary elections.

Ashotian said that the HHK landslide is a key reason why he believes Sarkisian will have no trouble winning the presidential ballot due in February or March 2008. The young parliamentarian, who was high on the HHK’s electoral slate, also pointed to the “political bankruptcy” of Armenia’s divided opposition that fared poorly in the legislative polls.

Ashotian made the remarks at a public debate with Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken leader of the Aylentrank movement staunchly opposed to Kocharian and Sarkisian. Pashinian, who is also the editor-in-chief of the country’s best-selling daily newspaper, strongly disagreed with his opponent, saying that Sarkisian can not win the 2008 election without massive vote rigging.

“If by elections we mean a mechanism for the free expression of popular will, I think it is very illogical to expect a citizen to freely elect a person whom he, to put it very mildly, deeply dislikes,” he said.

Still, Pashinian admitted that the opposition will have a chance of preventing a repeat of what it regards as large-scale vote rigging and defeating Sarkisian only if it rallies around a single presidential candidate.

Aylentrank and several other opposition groups make no secret of their desire to see former President Levon Ter-Petrosian return to active politics and join the unfolding presidential race. However, Ter-Petrosian’s would-be candidacy is unlikely to win the backing of most other opposition heavyweights. Some of them have already declared their intention to enter the fray.

(Photolur photo)
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