One of the eight candidates in Armenia’s presidential election went on hunger strike on Monday to demand that President Serzh Sarkisian be disqualified from the race.
Andreas Ghukasian, a political commentator running a private radio station in Yerevan, took the extraordinary action after the Central Election Commission (CEC) rejected his demand not to register Sarkisian as a presidential candidate.
Ghukasian claimed during a CEC meeting last Friday that the incumbent president’s participation precludes the freedom and fairness of the vote scheduled for February 18. He said Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) is “abusing its position in the state and cannot be an honest rival to other participants of the elections.” The CEC rejected this demand.
Ghukasian cited this decision as he started refusing food outside the Yerevan headquarters of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences. He also urged international organizations not to monitor the upcoming election.
“The ruling party has created a vicious machine forcing citizens to take part in elections in our country,” Ghukasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Failing to expose that machine and its participation in the elections would be an inept political approach.”
“An election campaign makes sense only when citizens have the right to choose freely,” he said. “If they don’t, the campaign will turn into a theater.”
The Armenian police did not interfere with the protest on the condition that the hitherto little-known candidate does not pitch a tent. Ghukasian said he will remain seated on a chair placed on a sidewalk around the clock. “It will be tough but I will overcome that difficulty,” he said.
Earlier this month, Ghukasian urged the six other candidates challenging Sarkisian to jointly fight against Armenia’s “criminal-oligarchic system” by dropping out of the contest and thus undermining the legitimacy of Sarkisian’s widely anticipated reelection.
The 42-year-old is not affiliated with any political party and was never expected to get many votes.