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By Astghik Bedevian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian is the favorite to win Armenia’s approaching presidential election and, as things stand now, can not be defeated by any of his opposition challengers, opposition leader Vazgen Manukian said on Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t bet on the victory of any of the [opposition] candidates,” Manukian, himself a presidential candidate, admitted at a news conference.

”Serzh Sarkisian’s victory is not about gaining votes but controlling power,” he said. “He fully controls the administrative resources, financial resources, and the entire electoral process … Because we live in an undemocratic country, the authorities’ capacity is much greater, and it would take a big force to defeat them.”

Manukian added that the Armenian opposition will stand a chance to scuttle a handover of power from President Robert Kocharian to Sarkisian only if forms a broad-based electoral alliance. He made it clear that he will not withdraw his candidature in favor of any other opposition hopeful. The remark was a further indication that the veteran politician considers himself Sarkisian’s strongest challenger.

The February 19 election will mark Manukian’s fourth consecutive attempt to win the Armenian presidency. Official results of the last presidential election held in February 2003 showed the leader of the opposition National Democratic Union (AZhM) garnering less than one percent of the vote. The poor performance was a far cry from his strong showing in the September 1996 election which saw incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrosian controversially win a second term in office.

Ter-Petrosian is now seen by many observers as Sarkisian’s main election rival. He has tried unsuccessfully to secure Manukian’s endorsement of his presidential bid. The AZhM leader’s pointed refusal to back his erstwhile foe provoked allegations in the pro-Ter-Petrosian media that he is playing into the government’s hands.

But Manukian stressed on Tuesday that the main target of his election campaign will the ruling regime and not any of the opposition candidates.

(Photolur photo)
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