By Ruzanna Stepanian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian kicked off his election campaign with a trip to the southern Vayots Dzor region on Tuesday, saying that Armenians will see their living standards improve dramatically if they pick him as their next president.
Meeting with local residents, Sarkisian pledged to help double household incomes in the country within five years in the event of his victory in next month’s presidential election.
“I am not talking about those people who have accumulated 10, 20, 30 or 50 million dollars in the last 16 years,” he told a small crowd that gathered in the local resort town of Jermuk. “They will not necessarily manage to double their fortunes.”
“But that pensions, wages and all other social expenditures, our GDP and state budget will double [by 2012] is beyond doubt,” he said in a speech that followed a concert staged by some of Armenia’s best known pop singers.
Free pop concerts were similarly part of campaign rallies organized by Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) during campaigning for the May 2007 parliamentary elections.
In his speech, Sarkisian also stressed the importance of the proper conduct of the upcoming presidential election, saying that it must be more democratic than the legislative polls, which were positively evaluated by international observers but rejected as fraudulent by the Armenian opposition.
“As you will recall, it snowed and rained here during the parliamentary elections,” he said. “Now it’s sunny. The difference between these and the last elections must be just like that.” Armenia’s next president must have undisputed legitimacy both at home and abroad in order to successfully deal with challengers facing the country, he added.
The prime minister, who enjoys the backing of outgoing President Robert Kocharian, sounded confident about his electoral chances but would not say if he expects to win the ballot outright in the first round of voting. “I am deeply convinced that you will make your choice not on the basis of this meeting,” he said. “I’m sure that many of you made your choice one or one-and-a-half months ago.”
While in Jermuk, which is home to Armenia’s most famous its spa resorts, Sarkisian also attended the inauguration of a new mineral water bottling plant. He campaigned in other Vayots Dzor earlier on Tuesday and is scheduled to take his campaign to the southeastern Syunik region on Wednesday.