By Ruzanna Stepanian
The campaign manager of Artur Baghdasarian, a major opposition candidate in next month’s presidential election, accused the Armenian authorities Wednesday of forcing local government officials and public sector employees to ensure Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s victory at any cost.
Heghine Bisharian alleged that the practice is widespread in areas outside Yerevan, with local government chiefs and their subordinates told secure a particular number of votes for Sarkisian or risk losing their jobs.
“They summon all officials -- regional governors, town and village mayors, school principals, teachers, doctors -- and foist [vote] percentages on them,” Bisharian told a news conference. “People from villages call us and say, ‘My fate depends on ensuring a 90 percent vote for the candidate of power. How am I going to ensure that 90 percent?’”
“Every teacher is obliged to bring a list of at least ten people who will vote for the government candidate. Or else, they will have to look for another job,” she said.
Bisharian, who is also the deputy chairwoman of Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party, did not offer any proof of the allegations or name officials allegedly involved in voter intimidation and other illegal practices.
Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) were accused by the opposition of using similar methods to score a landslide victory in the May 2007 parliamentary elections. The allegations, backed up by some media reports, were denied by the HHK. They also did not keep international observers from describing those elections as largely democratic.
“We stand for democratic ideas and believe that these elections too must meet democratic standards,” Eduard Sharmazanov, a spokesman for the HK and the Sarkisian campaign, told RFE/RL on Wednesday.
Sharmazanov dismissed Bisharian’s claims as “slander.” “It is obvious to many sections of our public that the Republican Party and Serzh Sarkisian’s campaign team in particular want a civilized and democratic electoral race,” he said. “We believe that it is impossible to become president by force in the 21st century.”
Bisharian insisted, nonetheless, that Sarkisian’s campaigning methods are already calling into question the freedom and fairness of the February 19 election. “This is a disgrace,” she said. “What’s the point of holding presidential elections in the first place?”
Bisharian went on to warn that Orinats Yerkir will urge supporters to take to the streets if the vote is rigged by the authorities. Similar threats have also been made by another leading opposition candidate, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.