By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Khachatrian
Former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian insisted on Tuesday that the Armenian authorities threatened to kill him and condemned Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian for laughing off the allegations.
Speaking to RFE/RL on Monday, Sarkisian dismissed them as a “pre-election trick” designed to earn Baghdasarian more votes in the upcoming presidential election. He argued that the opposition presidential candidate did not turn to law-enforcement authorities for help.
Baghdasarian rounded on the prime minister as he held a campaign meeting in Hrazdan, a town in central Armenia. “No threat, no cheap speculation can worry us,” he told about 300 supporters who gathered in a freezing conference hall there. “Serzh Sarkisian spoke yesterday of a pre-election trick. It is his statement which was a pre-election trick.”
Baghdasarian again gave no details of death threats which he claims to have received at the weekend. He promised on Sunday to elaborate on the allegations “later on.”
In his speech, the leader of the Orinats Yerkir Party again stated that he is “actively” discussing with other opposition figures, notably former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, the possibility of forming an electoral alliance. “We are in the process of active negotiations centering on a number of principles,” he said. “We will certainly inform the public soon about the results of the negotiations going on in the political scene.”
“There is no question that more and more people and forces understand the need to effect systemic changes in Armenia,” he added without elaborating.
Baghdasarian refused to take questions from journalists after the speech, and it remained unclear if he is ready to drop out of the race in Ter-Petrosian’s favor. He did not rule out such possibility on Sunday, while hinting that Ter-Petrosian should also consider withdrawing his candidacy.
A parliament deputy from Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), meanwhile, claimed on Tuesday that the authorities are not concerned about the possibility of the two main opposition candidates joining forces before the first round of voting slated for February 19. “Even in the event of a unification of candidates with zero chances of winning the presidential election, the chances of that virtual single candidate will be close to zero,” said Armen Ashotian.
Ashotian said Ter-Petrosian and Baghdasarian should therefore “join” Raffi Hovannisian, another top opposition leader who is not eligible to stand in the election, in becoming “observers following the presidential race.”
“We are confidently and decisively moving forward, and our victory will lead to a fundamental change of this lawless system,” Baghdasarian told residents of Hrazdan and nearby villages. “The situation existing in Armenia today does not enable people to achieve success in their own country.”
Baghdasarian also repeated his allegations that the authorities are deliberately keeping many Armenians below the poverty line in order to buy their votes. He urged locals to spurn vote bribes which he said will be offered to them by the Sarkisian campaign.
For her part, Heghine Bisharian, Baghdasarian’s outspoken campaign manager, claimed that Sarkisian can not win the February ballot without fraud. “They know that they will lose unless they resort to falsifications,” she said.
Sarkisian insisted in a campaign speech on Monday that he wants to prevail in a free and fair vote and be seen as a legitimate president by the domestic public and the international community.