By Ruzanna Stepanian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian will likely win Armenia’s upcoming presidential election without having to face an opposition challenger in a run-off vote, a spokesman for his Republican Party (HHK) said on Monday.
“I strongly believe it is very likely that the government candidate, Republican Party leader Serzh Sarkisian, will win outright in the first round [of voting,]” Eduard Sharmazanov told RFE/RL. “Things will clear up after the official start of the election campaign.”
While Sarkisian is widely regarded, not least because of the HHK’s tight grip on many government bodies, as the election favorite, few observers think that he is popular enough to garner the absolute majority of votes already in the first round slated for February 19. Even government-connected pollsters have put his approval ratings at up to 35 percent.
Accordingly, the talk of first-round Sarkisian victory has been dismissed by most opposition candidates. The campaign manager of one of those candidates, former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, claimed on Monday that it might be an indication of government plans to rig the election. Heghine Bisharian warned that Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party will “take to the streets” if Sarkisian is declared the election winner early on.
“There is no way Armenia’s government can be reproduced in one round,” said Aleksandr Arzumanian, the campaign chief of another opposition contender, Levon Ter-Petrosian. “Only an opposition candidate like Levon Ter-Petrosian who can win in the first round.”
Also expecting a two-round ballot is the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a junior partner in the HHK-led governing coalition which has nominated its own presidential candidate, Vahan Hovannisian. The Dashnaktsutyun leadership in Armenia will meet on Tuesday to discuss Hovannisian’s campaign platform.
Of the nine individuals running for president only Ter-Petrosian and another opposition leader, Artashes Geghamian, have publicized their manifestos so far. In Sharmazanov’s words, Sarkisian’s manifesto is “almost ready” and will be made public later this month. He said the prime minister will campaign under the motto “Forward, Armenia!”