By Ruzanna Stepanian
Vazgen Manukian joined on Thursday three other presidential candidates in dismissing as fraudulent U.S.-funded opinion polls that show all of them badly trailing Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian in the race for the Armenian presidency.
The polls, financed by the U.S. government and designed by the Gallup Organization, have been conducted by the Armenian Sociological Association (ASA) ever since the effective start of the election campaign last autumn. According their latest results reported by the Armenian press, Sarkisian enjoys what appears to be an unassailable lead over his eight challenger with an approval rating that rose from 29 percent to 35 percent this month.
The ASA put one of the opposition candidates, Artur Baghdasarian, in a distant second place, saying that only 13 percent of Armenians are ready to vote for the former parliament speaker. Other major election contenders fared even worse. According to the ASA, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, who is seen by local commentators as Sarkisian’s most formidable challenger, has less than 3 percent support.
Baghdasarian, Ter-Petrosian as well as the candidate of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Vahan Hovannisian, have questioned the credibility of the surveys, citing the ASA chairman Gevorg Poghosian’s reputedly close ties to the government.
“Nobody in Armenia has ever had trust in opinion polls,” said Manukian. “So of course, we trust neither the Gallup nor other polls as we find them biased.”
Like the three other candidates, Manukian insisted that Sarkisian is not as popular as is claimed by the pollsters. “That his rating is not 30 percent or higher is beyond doubt,” said the leader of the opposition National Democratic Union (AZhM).
Manukian was also at pains to deny the Ter-Petrosian campaign’s claims that the February 19 election will boil down to a choice between outgoing President Robert Kocharian’s favored successor and predecessor. He said most Armenians are opposed to their current and former leaderships because both of them have adhered to “the same model of governance.”
Manukian made the comments at a joint news conference with the leaders of four other small opposition parties that have endorsed his presidential bid. Two of them had split from the AZhM in 2002.
Arshak Sadoyan, a veteran politician leading one of those splinter groups, has faced embarrassing questions about his political orientation after it emerged last week that he has become an aide to Levon Sargsian, a controversial businessman and parliament deputy affiliated with the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Sargsian has been branded a crime figure by some oppositionists.
Sadoyan, who lost his parliament seat in last May’s elections, claimed that he simply wanted to be remain somehow involved in the law-making process. He said none of the opposition parliamentarians agreed to hire him as an adviser.
“So when the issue came up, Lyovik [Sargsian] said, ‘No problem, brother. Join me as an aide.’ And I agreed,” Sadoyan said, adding that he is not paid by the HHK lawmaker.
Manukian admitted that he was not happy with the surprise development but downplayed its significance, saying that Sadoyan will resign as a Sargsian aide on December 31. “He really needed to go to the National Assembly in the last 10-15 days,” said Manukian. “To avoid getting an entrance permit every time, he decided to get the status of a parliamentarian’s assistant.”