Raffi Hovannisian, a leading opposition presidential candidate, on Friday threatened to declare the February 18 election illegitimate if President Serzh Sarkisian does not stop what he called serious irregularities.
Hovannisian again alleged that civil servants and other public sector employees are pressured by the Armenian authorities to vote for Sarkisian. Some of them are in turn illegally campaigning for Sarkisian’s reelection in schools, universities and other state institutions, he said.
“If this continues then these elections will be over,” he told a news conference. “I don’t want that to happen. His commitment, his speeches, his promises to the people are violated, and those violations must be attributed to him. He must bring his subordinates to task.”
Hovannisian made clear at the same time that he will not pull out of the race in any case. “If this unequal playing field, this fraud and these abuses by officials deepen … the fairy tale about legitimate elections will be over. But that doesn’t mean that I will abandon the struggle,” he said.
Sarkisian has repeatedly pledged to ensure that the upcoming vote is the most democratic in Armenia’s history. He has emphasized that message in just about every speech delivered since the official start of the election campaign on Monday.
Education Minister Armen Ashotian, a leading member of Sarkisian’s Republican Party, claimed on Thursday that Hovannisian himself broke the law by campaigning at the Yerevan State Pedagogical University. Hovannisian dismissed this claim as a “complete lie,” saying that he only “said hello” to university students earlier this week.
Also making allegations of foul play on Friday was Arman Melikian, another opposition candidate. He said that the authorities have started collecting personal data of Armenians pledging to vote for the incumbent president.
“The Yerevan mayor has already instructed the heads of various departments to collect passport data of individuals employed in public service and their family members,” Melikian told reporters. “This is certainly a form of pressure on citizens.”
Melikian, who got less than 1 percent of the vote in the last presidential ballot, said earlier this week that he is suspending his low-key election campaign because he believes the authorities plan to rig the ballot.