By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Stepanian
President Robert Kocharian indicated on Friday that he expects Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian to win outright in the first round of Armenia’s upcoming presidential election, saying that a run-off vote is not “in the people’s interests.”
Kocharian said the likelihood of a one-round vote is “fairly high,” citing opinion polls giving Sarkisian a huge lead over his challengers.
“Some political forces take that very painfully,” he said in televised remarks. “Because when a candidate wins in the first round he is accountable to the people for his promises and programs. If [the election involves] two rounds, there is political horse-trading in between those rounds over whom to support. But that has nothing to do with the interests of the people, at issue are the interests of political forces.”
“I myself twice won elections in two rounds and know that [in such cases] promises to the people are complemented by obligations to political forces,” added Kocharian. “It is desirable that the next president do not be bound by such obligations.”
The remarks came as a further indication that Armenia’s leadership aiming for a first-round Sarkisian victory in the tightly contested presidential race. Several senior members of the governing Republican Party (HHK) have already predicted that the prime minister will poll more than 50 percent of the vote needed for securing such a win.
“In my subjective view, if developments continue like this, Serzh Sarkisian will win in the first round with a big margin,” Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK and Sarkisian campaign spokesman, reiterated on Friday.
“There are many reasons why Mr. Sarkisian will win in the first round,” said Sharmazanov. “We will talk about that during the election campaign.”
Surveys conducted by government-connected pollsters so far have given Sarkisian 30-35 percent support, not enough to avoid a run-off with one of the eight other candidates. Sarkisian’s three main challengers have dismissed those polls as fraudulent and insist that the election will not end on February 19 if it is free and fair.
Allies of one of those candidates, Levon Ter-Petrosian, have even claimed that the former Armenian president himself could score a first-found victory. A self-confident Ter-Petrosian declared last week that he has “already won” the presidency.
“If Levon Ter-Petrosian thinks so, I congratulate him,” scoffed Kocharian.
The outgoing president also reaffirmed his administration’s stated commitment to ensuring that the upcoming ballot is free and fair, saying that it has already sorted out the country’s notoriously inaccurate voter lists. He stressed at the same time that it is Armenia’s leading political parties controlling the majority of election commission seats that will be primarily responsible for the proper conduct of the vote.