By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) rallied thousands of people in Yerevan on Friday to shore up voter support for its presidential candidate Vahan Hovannisian and urge Armenians to reject their current and former leaders.
Hovannisian, joined by other Dashnaktsutyun leaders, again sought to present himself as a viable alternative to the two mutually hostile camps that have taken the center stage in the Armenian presidential race. He also deplored a weak rule of law and a perceived lack of democracy in Armenia and pledged to “restore constitutional order” if elected president.
“The existing unjust and unfree situation allows the former authorities hiding their sins with that injustice to try to again play with the feelings of our people and base their election campaign on hatred,” Hovannisian, attacking former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and his allies.
“They are being met with the same hatred,” he said, referring to the country’s present leadership. “The behavior of the current authorities, which is the other extreme, contains the same hatred.”
“Hatred is a sign of weakness. An extremist is always weak,” he added in front of flag-waving supporters who gathered in Yerevan’s Liberty Square. Many of them were bused from outside the capital.
Criticism of Ter-Petrosian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian was also the central theme of speeches by other top leaders of the nationalist party represented in Armenia’s current government. “We must say no to both the former and current rulers,” said Armen Rustamian, Hovannisian’s campaign manager.
“The former and current rulers, you are the reason for this reality,” agreed Hrant Markarian, the de facto head of Dashnaktsutyun’s worldwide governing Bureau. “On economic issues, on social relations, on the issues of democracy, fair elections and justice they are the same,” he told the crowd. “The people are their victims.”
Campaigning in the southern Armavir region on Monday, Hovannisian complained that many Armenians view the upcoming presidential election as a two-horse race between Sarkisian and Ter-Petrosian and could therefore ignore other candidates opposed to both rival camps. He and other Dashnaktsutyun leaders had earlier dismissed suggestions that the ex-president, who had controversially banned their party while in power, is Sarkisian’s main election challenger.
Addressing the rally, Gegham Manukian, another prominent Dashnaktsutyun figure, dismissed as fraudulent government-commissioned opinion polls which show Sarkisian having a huge lead over other candidates, including Hovannisian. “With such artificial figures, they aim to ensure their artificial election,” Manukian said in an apparent reference to the Sarkisian camp.
Markarian also apparently had the prime minister in mind when he spoke of unnamed election players relying on the “state machine” and underworld figures.
The Dashnaktsutyun leaders also expressed their discontent with the broader state of affairs in Armenia, criticizing a government which they have supported over the past decade and in which they are currently represented by three ministers.
“Seemingly, the country is developing,” said Hovannisian. “Seemingly the country is moving forward. In reality, there is stagnation.
“Seemingly, there is a development of democracy. A democracy with all its external signs: a parliament, elections, numerous parties, roundtables and conferences of non-governmental organizations, exit polls, opinion polls. In reality, there is an unfree and unjust atmosphere. In reality, our economic development, which is obvious, has nothing in common with ordinary people.”
“The country’s leaders and ordinary people live in two different worlds that are unrelated to each other,” added the Dashnaktsutyun candidate.
In Rustamian’s words, the Armenian authorities are primarily motivated their “reproduction” and neglect the needs and problems of ordinary people. He said only Dashnaktsutyun can simultaneously effect “radical changes” and avert “upheavals” in the country