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By Ruzanna Stepanian
Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian expressed confidence on Monday that the vast majority of tens of thousands of Armenian army officers and soldiers will vote for Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian in the upcoming presidential election.

“Everyone in the army will themselves decide whom to vote for,” he said. “But I am convinced that the army understands [the situation] very well and that the majority, if not more, [of its personnel] will give theirs votes to Serzh Sarkisian.”

Harutiunian argued that before becoming prime minister last spring Sarkisian for years served as Armenia’s defense minister and did a lot to strengthen its Armed Forces. “I support Serzh Sarkisian’s candidacy because I regard Serzh Sarkisian as a person who can govern our state, become commander-in-chief and who will be able to make decisions and lead the army if, God forbid, a war breaks out,” the former chief of the Armenian army staff, told reporters.

Voting by the military has been a major source of irregularities that have marred Armenian elections held over the past decade, with army conscripts allegedly forced by their commanders to vote for pro-government presidential candidates and political parties running for parliament. The Armenian authorities have always denied such allegations backed up by local and foreign election observers.

Harutiunian, who took over from Sarkisian in April 2007, was speaking to journalists after joining the prime minister, President Robert Kocharian and other senior Armenian officials to lay wreathes at Yerevan’s Yerablur military cemetery. The ceremony war part of events marking the 16th anniversary of the official establishment of Armenia’s army, a public holiday. Kocharian and Sarkisian also used the occasion to lay flowers at the grave of Vazgen Sarkisian, Armenia’s first defense minister assassinated in 1999.

Also visiting Yerablur were former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, Sarkisian’s most vocal opposition challenger, and his close associates, among them Vazgen Sarkisian’s brother Aram. “This is our holiday and the commander-in-chief of the victorious army is with us,” said the latter.

(Photolur photo: Harutiunian and Sarkisian pictured at Yerablur.)
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