Presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikian announced on Tuesday that he will not seek to delay Armenia’s upcoming presidential election because of an apparent assassination attempt, meaning that it will be held as planned on February 18.
“I have come to only show that I am present. Let every Armenian know that terrorism must not divert the Armenian political life from its natural course,” Hayrikian declared after unexpectedly joining a news conference held by his lawyer, Levon Baghdasarian, and a member of his campaign team, Karo Yeghnukian.
Hayrikian arrived there from a Yerevan hospital where he was taken immediately after being shot and wounded by unknown assailants last Thursday. Escorted by police officers, he returned to the hospital following his brief remarks.
That Hayrikian will not demand that Armenia’s Constitutional Court postpone the vote by two weeks was announced by his representatives at the start of the news conference.
The Armenian constitution allows a postponement if one of the presidential candidates is faced with “insurmountable obstacles” to their election campaign. Hayrikian did not rule out the possibility of lodging a corresponding appeal to the Constitutional Court as recently as on Monday.
In Yeghnukian’s words, while the shooting attack is such an obstacle, the leader of the National Self-Determination Union, a small opposition party, does not want to draw political dividends from it. “It is clear to everyone that this is an insurmountable circumstance, but if Hayrikian did that it would mean exploiting things. He doesn’t want that,” he said.
Yeghnukian insisted that Hayrikian did not make his decision under pressure from or at the urging of President Serzh Sarkisian. Hayrikian, for his part, denounced some of the other opposition candidates for suggesting that he cut a secret deal with the government.
One of those candidates, Vartan Sedrakian, stood by such allegations and accused Hayrikian of exploiting the incident to score points. Sedrakian, who is a self-declared expert on Armenian epic poems, said that he will ask the Constitutional Court to delay the vote because he believes the lives of all presidential hopefuls except President Sarkisian are now at risk.
Arman Melikian, another maverick contender, called Hayrikian’s decision “at least weird,” suggesting that it was the result of government pressure. “It would have been totally natural if he had demanded the two-week delay in order to recuperate and participate in the election campaign in full,” said the former Nagorno-Karabakh foreign minister.
Sarkisian and other senior Armenian officials visited the prominent Soviet-era dissident in the hospital following the shooting. Sarkisian’s deputy chief of staff, Victor Dallakian, met him there on Monday.
Andreas Ghukasian, a political analyst also running for president, likewise disagreed with Hayrikian’s move but said he respects it. “I remain of the opinion that a new election would be a blow to the criminal-oligarchic system,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Reactions from the two main opposition candidates, Hrant Bagratian and Raffi Hovannisian, were more muted. Bagratian said that he will not appeal to the Constitutional Court despite believing that an election delay would be “the best solution.”
Meanwhile, a top presidential ally, Education Minister Armen Ashotian, played down the significance of the election date on Tuesday, saying that Sarkisian would win reelection in any case. “The president’s rating is so high that it is enough to win outright in the first round of a clean election,” Ashotian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Whether that happens on February 18 or March 4 is secondary.”