By Ruzanna Stepanian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian downplayed high-profile defections from his camp and criticized those who equate him with Armenia’s former leaders as he campaign in the central Aragatsotn region on Tuesday.
“They say that this election is a choice between the bad and the worst,” he told a campaign rally in the local town of Aparan. “I say that this election is a choice between [different] paths of Armenia’s developments, a choice between experienced and inexperienced people, a choice between people who could have served this country, who could have moved this country forward but led our country to crisis by mismanaging it.”
Sarkisian appeared to be responding to criticism of Armenia’s former and present leaders voiced by Vahan Hovannisian, the presidential candidate of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). Campaigning in the southern Armavir region last week, Hovannisian complained that many Armenians view the February 19 election as a two-horse race between Sarkisian and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. He urged them not to choose between “the bad and the worst.”
By “the worst” the deputy parliament speaker apparently meant Ter-Petrosian, who had controversially banned Dashnaktsutyun and jailed some of its leaders, including Hovannisian, during his rule. Hovannisian and other Dashnaktsutyun leaders made similar appeals to voters at a rally in Yerevan on Friday.
Sarkisian insisted that the current Armenian leadership has done a much better job of governing the country and managing its struggling economy than the Ter-Petrosian administration did. In another attack on the ex-president, he slammed unspecified candidates who are trying “turn combat comrades against each other” and “lure them with posts.” “They think that they can achieve something by dividing the society,” said the prime minister.
It was an apparent reference to the fact that several prominent veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh hitherto loyal to the government have pledged their allegiance to Ter-Petrosian. Two of them, parliament deputies Sasun Mikaelian and Hakob Hakobian, publicly endorsed the latter Friday on behalf of their Test of Spirit organization. Both men are members of the parliamentary faction of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). But only one of them, Mikaelian, is formally affiliated with the HHK itself.
Sarkisian played down the defections as he spoke to RFE/RL in Aparan. “Such processes may happen,” he said. “There is nothing extraordinary here. There may be such people in all elections.”
Sarkisian added that the HHK’s decision-making Executive Body will meet in Yerevan later in the day to decide whether to expel Mikaelian from the party.