President Serzh Sarkisian said on Friday that the upcoming municipal elections in Yerevan will not be followed by violent unrest and dismissed opposition pledges to use them for toppling his administration.
The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) claimed, meanwhile, that only massive vote rigging can prevent its landslide victory in the May 31 elections of a municipal assembly that will appoint Yerevan’s next mayor.
The HAK’s top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, personally tops the list of the opposition alliance’s candidates in the polls which his associates say will amount to a “second round” of Armenia’s last presidential election held in February 2008.
“This is the opinion of a group of people which is certainly not acceptable to me,” Sarkisian said, commenting on the opposition plans. He seemed confident that the Yerevan polls will not spark the kind of deadly street clashes that rocked the country following the 2008 presidential ballot. “I exclude that,” Sarkisian told a news conference held on the first anniversary of his inauguration.
Ten people were killed and more than 200 others injured on March 1, 2008 as the Armenian authorities suppressed daily post-election demonstrations staged by the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition. More than 100 opposition supporters were arrested in the following days. At least 55 of them remain in prison on controversial charges.
Sarkisian insisted that none of them is a political prisoner. “I don’t share the opinion of those people who think that there are illegally arrested persons in our country,” he said.
The HAK’s chief office coordinator, Levon Zurabian, claimed the opposite at a separate news conference on Friday. Zurabian also reaffirmed the HAK’s readiness to start a “dialogue” with Sarkisian and his four-party governing coalition if all “political prisoners” are set free. He said the opposition will also cooperate with the authorities if it wins a majority of seats in Yerevan’s Council of Elders.
“We will score a crushing victory if the elections are free and fair,” said Zurabian. “We are talking about 70-75 percent of the vote.
“The problem is, however, that these authorities are capable of the most large-scale falsifications. So our challenge is to decide how to counter vote irregularities.”
According to Zurabian, the government’s failure to ask the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the May 31 elections bodes ill for their freedom and fairness. “The fact that the authorities have not invited OSCE observers shows that they are scared and do not want a serious international oversight of these elections,” he said.
Zurabian did not say what the opposition will do if it deems the polls fraudulent. Addressing thousands of supporters in Yerevan last month, Ter-Petrosian made clear that he will not seek to stage an anti-government “revolution” in the country and will try to return to power only “by means of legal elections.”
Sarkisian described Ter-Petrosian’s statement as “prudent.” But he said the ex-president should have made it in the immediate aftermath of the presidential election.