Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian went on hunger strike on Sunday to continue pressing his demands for a rerun of Armenia’s recent presidential election which he says was rigged in favor of President Serzh Sarkisian.
The main opposition candidate in the February 18 vote announced the extraordinary move as he again rallied thousands of supporters in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
In what he called his “most responsible speech” to date, Hovannisian warned Sarkisian against being sworn in for a second term at an inauguration ceremony scheduled for April 9. “If Mr. Sarkisian takes the false oath of office on the Holy Bible and the constitution and if His Holiness [Catholicos Garegin II] thus desecrates the Bible on April 9, they will do that on my corpse,” he declared.
“Until Mr. Sarkisian withdraws [from the presidency] for the sake of the homeland, his grandchildren, my grandchildren and children, I will stay in Liberty Square, will not eat and will not accept lies and fraud from anyone,” he said.
Hovannisian also made clear that he will hold more rallies in the square during the hunger strike. He scheduled the next demonstration for March 15.
The leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) further pledged to form an alternative “government of national accord” in the same venue. “On April 9 we will celebrate the inauguration of a new Armenia,” he said without elaborating.
According to the Central Election Commission (CEC) dominated by government loyalists, Sarkisian won reelection with 58.6 percent of the vote. Hovannisian finished second with about 37 percent. He has rejected the official results as fraudulent, saying that he was the rightful winner of the vote. The CEC and the Sarkisian administration strongly deny his allegations of vote rigging.
Hovannisian has been seeking to force a repeat presidential election or at least snap parliamentary polls with a nationwide campaign of post-election protests. He has also asked the Constitutional Court to annul the official vote results. The court is expected to rule on the appeal in the coming days.
Hovannisian already staged a hunger strike in Liberty Square two years ago. He stayed camped out there for over two weeks to protest against the state of affairs in Armenia and the government’s perceived failure to address problems facing the country.
Ending the protest in late March 2011, the California native acknowledged that his high-profile action has had little impact on the government.” But he said he has achieved a change in “the public consciousness” that will make Armenians less tolerant of corruption and other government abuses.