Opposition candidate Raffi Hovannisian on Thursday accused the authorities of forcing public sector employees to vote for Serzh Sarkisian and committing other violations ahead of next month’s presidential election.
Hovannisian, who is one of Sarkisian’s main challengers, said his campaign headquarters is already receiving such reports from state-funded institutions. “There are reports that municipalities summon school teachers and principals, like commanders call up their soldiers, and … indirectly issue such orders,” he told reporters.
Hovannisian claimed that other voters are likewise being bullied to back the incumbent president. He also reiterated opposition allegations about government manipulation of voter lists.
“Voter lists are inflated and there are prerequisites for abuses and falsifications,” said the leader of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. “We need to closely deal with that matter.”
Hovannisian urged Sarkisian to honor his pledges to ensure that the February 18 ballot is free and fair.
Sarkisian stood by those pledges as he took his election campaign to southeastern Vayots Dzor province earlier in the day. “I am sincerely telling you that my main goal is to hold good elections,” he told a rally in the regional capital Yeghegnadzor.
Sarkisian at the same time complained that those alleging vote irregularities are “forgetting that they too are responsible for holding good elections.” “The authorities are of course primarily responsible for that, but all political forces also bear responsibility,” he said.
Unlike Sarkisian, Hovannisian has avoided holding major rallies since the official start of the election campaign on Monday. He has instead toured various parts of Yerevan on foot, randomly greeting people in the street, shops and other public settings and handing them his campaign booklets. He publicly had his hair cut at a barber’s shop during one such campaign outing on Wednesday.
Hovannisian, who was born and raised in the United States, continued the U.S.-style campaigning on Thursday, visiting a university campus, the Chess House and a souvenir market in downtown Yerevan.
“I spoke about him today and he showed up,” a woman working there told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Good luck, Mr. Raffi,” shouted another trader.
But not everyone was impressed. “I’m not going to vote for anyone,” said one elderly woman. “Whoever you elect will work for the sake of his own pockets.”