By Ruzanna Stepanian
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian challenged Armenia’s presidential candidates to state whether they ever broke law, list their shortcomings and answer two dozen other questions Tuesday as he specified his conditions for endorsing one of them for the February 19 election.
Hovannisian publicized and sent the list of 22 questions to all nine candidates after presiding over a meeting of his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party’s governing board. A Zharangutyun statement said its decision on whom to support in the race will be based on their “frank answers.”
Hovannisian’s questionnaire is just as frank, with the election contenders asked to not only elaborate on their campaign platforms and favored policies but also to list their “main merits and shortcomings” and explain “the difference between your and your family’s assets held now and in 1991.” “In your biography, are there any facts (e.g., corruption, others deeds punishable by criminal law) that may enable anyone to influence your decisions?” reads another question. “If so, please specify.”
Some of the questions are specifically addressed to the candidates who hold or held a government post, notably Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. Those of them who seek Hovannisian’s endorsement will have to declare if they ever jailed innocent people, benefited from vote rigging or committed other “major mistakes.”
Only one of the candidates, Artashes Geghamian of the opposition National Unity Party, expressed readiness to answer all of the embarrassing questions. Others found them populist and even offensive.
A spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) dismissed the questionnaire as “unacceptable” and “ridiculous.” “It would be much better if every politician began from self-criticism,” Eduard Sharmazanov told RFE/RL.
The campaign manager of one of Sarkisian’s main challengers, former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, likewise said that Hovannisian is wrong to claim a moral superiority over the election contenders. “I think that acting on behalf of the entire public and holding an examination for the presidential candidates is kind of ludicrous,” said Heghine Bisharian.
Ter-Petrosian, another top opposition candidate, also made it clear through an aide that he has no intention to send written answers to the U.S.-born politician who had served as a foreign minister in his administration. The Ter-Petrosian campaign chief, Aleksandr Arzumanian, said Hovannisian can find those answers in the ex-president’s recent and upcoming speeches.
Arzumanian also told RFE/RL that Hovannisian did not discuss his questionnaire when he visited Ter-Petrosian on Sunday. The meeting apparently focused on the possibility of the latter’s endorsement by the Zharangutyun leader.
Zharangutyun is one of only two opposition parties represented in Armenia’s parliament, owing to its leader’s popularity. Observers believe that Hovannisian, who is not eligible to stand in the presidential election, can therefore influence its outcome.