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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) on Friday officially set the date of next year’s presidential election for February 19 thus marking the beginning of formal processes leading up to the vote.

Following the requirement of Armenian law, CEC Head Garegin Azarian made a brief announcement in this regard through the country’s public television and radio on Friday afternoon.

“In line with the Armenian election law and constitution, I am authorized to declare that the elections of the republic’s president will be held on February 19, 2008,” Azarian said.

According to the Armenian constitution, an election must take place 50 days before the end of the current president’s term.

In accordance with Armenia’s election law, the Election Day (Tuesday) is declared a day-off in the country.

The timetable of all stages of the electoral process is expected to be defined soon after this announcement.

Regardless of whether February 19 election goes into a runoff or not, the next elected president of Armenia will be sworn in on April 9.

If adopted in the second reading any time soon, the amendments to the election law approved by lawmakers in the first reading early this week will stipulate that only political parties can nominate presidential candidates, or persons wishing to stand for president in elections can do so themselves.

So far candidates in Armenia’s presidential elections have been nominated by political parties and blocs of political parties as well as by civic initiatives.

Critics say the amendment has ‘psychological’ implications as it will make impossible the appearance of the names of several political parties at a time on the ballot-paper next to the name of a candidate they support. They further claim that it is done deliberately to contain a possible consolidation of different opposition parties around a single candidate in the run-up to the election.

Meanwhile, advocates discard these claims as unreasonable and explain that while in legislative elections political blocs can form a faction in parliament if they manage to win seats, nominations by blocs of parties in presidential elections are completely devoid of sense.

Only one party, Aram Karapetian’s Nor Zhamanakner, has so far formalized its decision on nominating a candidate.

Other political parties, including major government and opposition parties, are due to hold their meetings to decide on nominations in the course of this month.
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