The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) declared on Thursday that it will not field or endorse any presidential candidate after all, saying that changing Armenia’s government through elections has become impossible because of chronic vote rigging.
The announcement came three days after HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition candidate in the last Armenian presidential election, said he will not run in the next ballot scheduled for February 18.
“Over the past five years the vote rigging machine has been made more sophisticated,” the HAK charged in a statement. “The country has seen the emergence of a state-organized criminal system of distribution of vote bribes and multiple voting, which is supported by all state and law-enforcement bodies as well as the ruling party.”
The HAK referred to Armenia’s allegedly inflated voter registers as “the main instrument for rigging elections,” saying that they contain the names of up to 700,000 citizens that left the country long ago. It pointed out that the pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament last month blocked a set of HAK-drafted legal amendments designed to complicate serious fraud in the upcoming election.
The HAK bill was also backed by the three other opposition groups represented in the National Assembly. Two of them have also decided not to nominate any presidential candidates.
“In essence, the mechanism for competitive elections has been destroyed, entrepreneurs supporting the opposition are being bullied, and the falsification of between 500,000 and 700,000 votes precludes any possibility of changing the government through elections,” read the statement.
It added that the presidential election will therefore be a “farce” and that the HAK’s participation in the vote would only help to “legitimize the illegal regime.”
President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) brushed aside these allegations, saying that the parliamentary elections held in May 2012 were the most democratic in the country’s history.
The Armenian authorities’ handling of those polls has been praised by the United States and the European Union. Sarkisian assured a top EU official earlier this month that the February 2013 vote will meet “the highest international standards.”
HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov claimed that HHK’s decision to effectively boycott the presidential contest marked its demise. “That political force is now being pulverized,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It was united around one person: first President Levon Ter-Petrosian. After Ter-Petrosian’s decision not to run and the HAK’s decision to boycott the election I see no reason why even the opposition segment of the society should now follow the Congress.”
There are have been growing divisions within the HAK in recent months over the bloc’s election strategy. One of its dissident figures, Hrant Bagratian has decided to run for president on his own.
Bagratian refused to comment on the HAK’s decision that was made at a meeting of its Political Council held late on Wednesday. He told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that he was invited to the meeting but chose not to attend it.
Asked whether he and his Azatutyun (Freedom) party will now leave the Ter-Petrosian-led alliance, he said, “I need to think about that. Right now I’m busy with my nomination.”