By Hrach Melkumian
Opposition candidate Vazgen Manukian warned on Monday that President Robert Kocharian’s push for a first-round landslide victory in this week’s presidential election could lead to serious vote irregularities and a new period of political instability in Armenia.
He alleged that Kocharian supporters, which control all electoral commissions, are preparing to manipulate the results of Wednesday’s crucial ballot.
“I see that as things stand now, Robert Kocharian is not electable with real votes. Clinging to power by force would mean new upheavals [for Armenia],” Manukian told a news conference in Yerevan following four weeks of intense campaigning across the country.
The leader of the center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM) party was responding to a Sunday statement by Kocharian’s campaign chief, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, that the incumbent will win outright on February 19. Sarkisian expressed confidence that the election will not go into a run-off because Kocharian will pass the 50 percent plus one vote benchmark.
“The people would not accept that because it doesn’t look like he has that much support,” Manukian warned, adding that Kocharian could eventually agree to a high-risk second round.
Speaking to RFE/RL on the campaign trail last week, Manukian, who is having his third presidential run in less than seven years, said he was surprised by the extent of public discontent with the current authorities.
He claimed on Monday the Kocharian-controlled Central Election Commission and its regional divisions are now conducting “preparatory work” aimed at facilitating ballot box stuffing and other irregularities. The AZhM holds one out of nine seats in the CEC and lower-level commissions. Kocharian and political parties supporting him fill six seats, the two remaining ones being controlled by other opposition forces.
“There is a lot of pressure on our people,” Manukian said. “[The authorities] are also trying to bribe them so that so that they turn a blind on fraud.”
Kocharian, however, argues that he is popular enough to secure a clean reelection and is therefore not interest in any irregularities.
(RFE/RL photo: Manukian, left, toasting villagers with wine on a recent campaign trip.)