TSAGHKADZOR, Armenia -- President Serzh Sarkisian has dismissed the suggestion that he won't be facing any true competition in Armenia's presidential election next month, adding that "nurturing" rivals is not the government's job.
Sarkisian made the comment in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor, near the capital, Yerevan.
The government, the leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia insisted, is rather responsible for creating a fair electoral environment.
“I don’t agree with those who say that there are no strong competitors or people who could poll a significant number of votes," Sarkisian said. "And who has said that [former Foreign Minister] Raffi Hovannisian, [former Prime Minister] Hrant Bagratian, or [Soviet-era dissident] Paruyr Hayrikian, who have merits and a track record, are easier competitors or have less experience in debating or in speaking in public?”
Sarkisian is running for a second five-year term in the February 18 election.
He faces challenges from Hovannisian, Bagratian, Hayrikian, and four other candidates. All have been publicly critical of Sarkisian’s leadership.
Sarkisian insisted that he has never considered election candidates -- past or present -- to be adversaries, but said he has always regarded them as competitors.
“Our struggle has always been in favor of something," Sarkisian told RFE/RL. "We have always competed for our ideas to be supported rather than trying to expose the mistakes or weak points of others. In this sense, the upcoming election will be no exception.”
The view that Sarkisian's election victory is a foregone conclusion has spead in Armenia since major opposition groups announced in late 2012 that they would not field presidential candidates.
The largest opposition bloc, the Armenian National Congress (HAK), and the Prosperous Armenia (BHK) party said they would not contest the election with their own candidates and would not support any of the contenders.
Another opposition party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), made a similar announcement.
The HAK and Dashnaktsutyun explained their decisions by saying the government has failed to provide a level playing field for all candidates. The BHK has not officially elaborated on its stance.
None of the three movements, however, has explicitly called for a boycott of the vote.
Harry Tamrazian is the director of RFE/RL's Armenian Service