By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian spoke of himself as the next president of Armenia and pledged to ensure the proper conduct of Tuesday’s presidential election as he rallied tens of thousands of people in Yerevan on Sunday.
“We will win. That victory will belong to everyone, every citizen of the Republic of Armenia,” Sarkisian told the crowd that gathered in the city’s Liberty Square the day after a similarly big rally staged there by his main challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
“I will be the president of all people. I will be the president of both my voters and those of my compatriots who voted for other candidates,” he said, adding that he enjoys the support of a “silent majority” of Armenians opposed to “upheavals.”
Sarkisian would not say if he intends to win the election already in the first round of voting. Western news agencies quoted him as saying this week that he will garner more than 50 percent of the vote and avoid a potentially risky run-off with one of the eight other candidates. When asked by RFE/RL after his speech to confirm the comments attributed to him, Sarkisian said: “Have you ever seen such rallies in Armenia?”
As was the case during other campaign rallies held by Sarkisian across the country, many in the crowd were civil servants and other public sectors. Also, a large part of rally participants appeared to have been bused from various regions of Armenia and even Georgia’s Armenian-populated Javakheti region.
According to Javakheti Armenians present at the rally, the Georgian nationals were brought to Yerevan overnight in at least 50 buses and minibuses. “We are citizens of Georgia,” one of them told RFE/RL. “We Georgian Armenians can’t vote but have come to rally for him because we think that he can help Javakheti Armenians.”
In his speech Sarkisian also pledged to ensure that the February 19 ballot is free and fair. “I will do everything to ensure that the elections take place in accordance with democratic standards and laws,” said the prime minister regarded by his radical opponents as one of the architects of Armenia’s culture of electoral fraud.
“We will not let some people discredit the elections. We will not let the malice and ambitions of some people become decisive,” Sarkisian said.