Armenia’s presidential election will not be free and fair despite government assurances to the contrary, opposition candidate Raffi Hovannisian claimed on Wednesday during a campaign trip to the southern Armavir province.
“It is already evident that the election will not be free and fair,” he told a campaign gathering in Echmiadzin. “But it doesn’t mean that I am abandoning the struggle. It doesn’t mean I should step aside and say it’s not worth it. I have a sense of responsibility.”
Hovannisian repeated his allegations that the Armenian authorities are “actively using administrative resources” to ensure that President Serzh Sarkisian wins a second term in office. He said local government officials across the country are bullying and paying people to vote for the incumbent. Public sector employees are under particularly strong pressure, he claimed.
“The best solution, even five days before the election, would be for the distinguished president to recall his governors, town and village mayors and other chiefs who are now trying to threaten, intimidate or bribe people,” Hovannisian told supporters in Musaler, a village near Echmiadzin.
“There are 100 types of Watergates here, and we must jointly expose those Watergates,” added the U.S.-born opposition leader.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service late last month, Hovannisian made clear that he will steer clear of any violence and bloodshed in case of challenging official results of the February 18 election.
Sarkisian publicly criticized Hovannisian, his arguably most popular election challenger, on the campaign trail earlier this week. The president was specifically angry at his declaration that the Armenian presidential race is a battle between “good and evil.”
Hovannisian portrayed the criticism as further proof that he is now posing a serious threat to Sarkisian’s reelection. “We know that Mr. Sarkisian is responding to my speeches,” he said in Echmiadzin. “I want to thank him but he had better hold a debate with me.”