By Astghik Bedevian and Emil Danielyan
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian is far from being Armenia’s most popular politician at the moment, even though he is seen as the favorite to win the forthcoming presidential election, a leading pro-establishment pollster said on Tuesday.
Sarkisian is widely regarded as President Robert Kocharian’s most likely successor, owing to his and his Republican Party’s control of many government bodies and vast financial resources. Those levers are thought to have been instrumental in the party’s landslide victory in the May parliamentary elections.
According to Gevorg Poghosian, director of the Armenian Sociological Association (ASA), Sarkisian was only the country’s fourth most popular politician as of July. Poghosian cited some of the hitherto unpublicized findings of a U.S.-funded opinion poll conducted by the ASA at the time.
It was the latest in a series of quarterly surveys designed and coordinated by the Gallup Organization. The U.S. International Republican Institute (IRI) began commissioning them last year with the aim of gauging public opinion on key issues facing Armenia.
One of the questions some 1,200 Armenians randomly interviewed on July 5-12 were asked to answer was: “Which of the Presidential candidates would you vote for if the Presidential elections were held next Sunday?”
In Poghosian’s words, Sarkisian’s name was only fourth in the resulting rankings of potential presidential candidates. He said they were topped by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian and millionaire businessman Gagik Tsarukian. “They were followed by Serzh Sarkisian,” he told RFE/RL.
Poghosian refused to reveal their percentage figures, saying that the collated results of respondents’ answers to the question are not subject to publication. He said the pollsters have only informed various politicians about their respective ratings.
Poghosian only agreed to disclose popular support, as measured by the ASA, for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, who is considering running for president. He said it stands at about 1.7 percent. “I don’t see popular demand for the first president’s return to power,” he added.
Of the potential candidates covered by the poll only Hovannisian has publicized his rating on the website of his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party so far. According to information posted there, 19 percent of Armenians would have voted for the U.S.-born politician if the presidential election had been held in July.
Oskanian, also a former U.S. citizen, left indications late last year that he too might join the presidential candidate. This fueled speculation that Kocharian would like to be succeeded by him, rather than Sarkisian. The Armenian leader has not yet publicly named his preferred successor.
The findings of polls conducted by Poghosian’s organization in the run-up to previous Armenian elections usually coincided with official vote results rejected as fraudulent by the opposition. Opposition leaders have long accused him of being used by the authorities for rigging polling data and thereby legitimizing what they see as electoral fraud. The pollster has denied the accusations, insisting on the credibility of ASA surveys.