By Shakeh Avoyan
Artashes Geghamian, a leading opposition candidate in the Armenian presidential race, attacked the state propaganda machine on Friday as he campaigned in villages northwest of Yerevan.
He urged locals to defy what he called government pressure and vote against President Robert Kocharian on February 19.
Geghamian, who is seen as one of Kocharian’s main challengers, looked particularly angry with the decision earlier this week by over three dozen Armenian non-governmental organizations to endorse the incumbent. Most of those groups are so-called “union of compatriots” representing natives of various Armenian regions and Armenian-populated areas abroad.
“Do not believe those false unions of compatriots,” the opposition leader told a crowd in one of the local villages, Byurakan. “Their main objective is to divide the people.”
Local opposition supporters, meanwhile, seemed confused by the large number of opposition candidates. Some said the anti-Kocharian camp should leave only one single contender. “What we need is a regime change,” said one man in Byurakan. “I don’t care who gets elected. The opposition should unite. If they don’t unite, nothing will work.”
Geghamian said during his first campaign trip earlier this week that he is ready to withdraw from the race if Armenia’s leading opposition parties agree on a another single candidate. But most observers believe that he will stay in contention.
Voter cynicism also ran high in the area which is part of the larger Aragatsotn province. The local residents’ list of complaints -- a lack of tractors and fertilizers, high costs of irrigation -- mirrored the situation in other rural regions.
“I have a feeling that whoever gets elected, the plight of the villagers will not improve,” a man in neighboring Karbi village said. Another one villager said the candidates mainly “say bad things about each other.”