The closed A1+ television station prints the first edition of its newly created “Ayb-Fe” daily newspaper. The unfolding presidential election campaign features large in its coverage of events. The paper thinks that the main objective of the Armenian opposition at this point is to achieve a run-off vote with President Robert Kocharian. It also says that Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian holds the key to the outcome of rivalry between the two top opposition figures: Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian. If he is not registered as a presidential candidate, he will likely endorse one of them and thereby determine Kocharian’s main challenger. As for Kocharian, “Ayb-Fe” takes the view that a second of round of voting would be too risky for the incumbent president.
“Iravunk” calculates that the ongoing collection of at least 35,000 voter signatures by 14 opposition presidential nominees means that “more than half a million voters are becoming involved in the electoral process.” The paper claims that a strong public interest in the February elections would harm Kocharian’s reelection campaign. “No wonder that the abundance of candidates annoys the authorities,” it says, predicting that they will try to block the official registration of several opposition leaders, particularly Raffi Hovannisian. But they have to find a pretext other than the 10-year citizenship requirement to hush up debate on Kocharian’s eligibility.
“Iravunk” also notes that most opposition candidates are pro-Russian, whereas Kocharian and his supporters emphasize the need to forge closer links with the West. The latter need Western support in order to minimize possible international criticism of their handling of the presidential elections which may again be marred with irregularities. More specifically, the paper claims, Kocharian wants the West to turn a blind eye on his fraudulent reelection.
Tobacco magnate Hrant Vartanian tells “Hayots Ashkhar” that he is actively campaigning for Kocharian’s reelection because he thinks that the president has succeeded in ensuring political stability in Armenia. “The era of the working man has started in the country,” he says. “I’m not an oligarch; I have no ties to state structures; and have never made use of state levers or privileges,” Vartanian continues. “I’m a manufacturer with a working-class and peasant origin.” Vartanian also attacks other unnamed businessmen who he says have made fortunes under Kocharian but secretly finance the opposition.
“Hayastani Hanrapetutyun” says popular sympathy for Raffi Hovannisian is based on “legends” and emotions rather than his practical accomplishments. The government-funded daily believes that the U.S.-born former minister has done few tangible things while in government and that will not earn him many votes if he is allowed to contest the elections.
A close associate of Levon Ter-Petrosian admits in “Aravot” that most Armenians do not share views and solutions espoused by their former president. “Ter-Petrosian himself is conscious of that and does not want to be discredited as a participant of the political auction or a lifelong president,” says Ara Sahakian. “The society remains under the influence of government propaganda.” But Sahakian believes that “a return to Ter-Petrosian’s political legacy is inevitable” “That is just a matter of time,” he concludes.