By Ruzanna Stepanian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian pledged to turn Armenia into a “brilliant country” and responded to intensifying verbal attacks from former President Levon Ter-Petrosian as he took his election campaign to Yerevan on Friday.
Sarkisian spent a large part of his speech at a campaign rally in the city’s northern Nor Nork suburb condemning the “malicious” discourse of his most bitter opposition challenger.
“But I am asking you not to succumb to provocations, not to respond to malice with malice because our aim is not just to garner many votes,” he told several hundred people who gathered in front of a local church. “Our aim is to move Armenia forward after the elections … It is never possible to do good things with malice.”
Although Sarkisian did not mention Ter-Petrosian by name, the remarks were a clear response to the ex-president’s toughening anti-government rhetoric. Campaigning in the central Kotayk region on Thursday, Ter-Petrosian compared the prime minister to Lavrenti Beria, Joseph Stalin’s notorious security chief, and alleged that Sarkisian will provoke another war with Azerbaijan if wins the upcoming presidential election. He also implicitly accused Sarkisian and outgoing President Robert Kocharian of masterminding the 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament.
Sarkisian, who prayed in the church before addressing the crowd, portrayed such allegations as a sign of growing “panic” reigning in the Ter-Petrosian camp. He also responded to Ter-Petrosian’s claims that he is “begging” Armenians to vote for him.
“I am never averse to appealing to my people and telling them that I need their votes,” said Sarkisian. “Others may say this is vote begging. Of course, I ask [for votes.] I don’t find it offensive to ask my people.”
“One must not turn their own ambitions into a way of life. It is inadmissible to act against the country’s interests for the sake of false personal authority,” he added.
In what has become a pattern, Sarkisian’s speech came mid-way through a concert by Armenian pop starts supporting his presidential bid, and there were no other political figures speaking at the gathering. And as was the case in Sarkisian’s previous campaign events, many in the crowd were medical workers, school and kindergarten teachers and other public sector employees as well as scores of schoolchildren. Some of them held up Sarkisian’s campaign posters.
The Armenian premier assured them that he will ensure a significant rise in living standards if he becomes the country’s next president. “I assure you that Armenia will be a brilliant country,” he said. “There are all the grounds to assert that we will live in a totally different country five years later.”
Not everyone was convinced, though. “I will make up my mind before February 19,” said one woman.
“It’s hard to say which candidate is the best and which candidate is the worst,” said another participant of the rally. “I don’t know who I will vote for.”