Campaigning in Armenia’s presidential election officially drew to a close on Saturday, with President Serzh Sarkisian again lavishing praise on his main challengers just one day after accusing them of irresponsible populism.
Sarkisian and opposition presidential candidates Raffi Hovannisian and Hrant Bagratian held their final meetings with voters less than two days before the election. Under Armenian law, they as well as the four other candidates are not allowed to campaign on Sunday.
“I am grateful to my opponents,” Sarkisian declared at an indoor campaign rally in central Yerevan. “I believe that we, together with them, are really doing a revolution in Armenia. And that is a constitutional revolution.” He said all contenders have adhered to the Armenian constitution during the almost month-long election campaign.
Sarkisian lauded Hovannisian’s “beautiful campaign full of tens of thousands of handshakes” with ordinary Armenians. “Some are sarcastic about that but the reality is that Raffi is changing a culture and creating a new political tradition in our country.” He is proving that being in opposition does not necessarily mean spreading hatred all over the place.”
Sarkisian went on to pay tribute to Bagratian, a former prime minister also highly critical of the current Armenian government. “No matter how much I disagree with Hrant, I watch his televised interviews with interest,” he said. “I am happy that there is such a deputy in our National Assembly who writes programs and tries to propose an alternative path.”
The praise came the day after the incumbent publicly accused his opponents of deceiving the electorate with populist promises and seeking to take Armenia backwards. He denounced “adventurists” promising to sharply raise public sector salaries and broader government expenditures.
Hovannisian hit back at this attack as he wrapped up his campaign at another conference hall in Yerevan on Saturday. He said Sarkisian himself is not serious about promises contained in his “nice speeches” and cannot win over most Armenians without vote bribes.
Hovannisian again claimed that he will win the election already in the first round of voting, urging supporters to gather in Yerevan’s Liberty Square to celebrate his victory on Tuesday. The opposition leader also reiterated that his post-election actions will not result in bloodshed.
Bagratian, for his part, spent the final day of campaigning touring northern Tavush region. Addressing several hundred supporters in Liberty Square late on Friday, he said he will at least finish second in the race.
The ex-premier, who played a major role in free-market reforms implemented in Armenia in the early 1990s, again sought to position himself as the only candidate with an expert knowledge of economics. “I want the country to be at last governed by someone who deeply understands the economy,” he said.
Liberty Square was on Saturday the scene of a small rally held by Paruyr Hayrikian, another major contender who was shot and wounded on January 31 for still unknown reasons. Hayrikian said at the rally that voting for a presidential candidate other than himself would mean a “betrayal of national values” and expression of support for the “terrorists” who shot at him.
Speaking at a separate news conference, Hayrikian again angrily denied suggestions that his last-minute decision not to seek a two-week postponement of Monday’s ballot was the result of a secret deal with Sarkisian.