By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian has asked the Constitutional Court to postpone Armenia’s presidential election by two weeks, citing state television’s hostile coverage of his election campaign and related political activities, it emerged on Friday.
Under Armenia’s Electoral Code, a presidential election can be put off if one of the candidates is deemed to be facing “insurmountable obstacles” in trying to get their message across to voters. If those obstacles are not eliminated by authorities with a two-week period, the vote must be cancelled and held anew within 40 days.
In its appeal to the Constitutional Court filed the previous night, the Ter-Petrosian campaign claimed that the government-controlled Armenian Public Television has been waging a smear campaign against him before and after the official start of campaigning for the February 19 ballot. It said the resulting obstacles are “making his further participation in electoral processes impossible.”
A spokesman for the court, Hovannes Papikian, told RFE/RL that Armenia’s highest judicial body will consider the demand. He said the first hearing on the case was scheduled for Monday.
In a statement later in the day, Ter-Petrosian’s campaign team said the appeal does not amount to the former president’s withdrawal from the race. “We are officially stating that not only is Levon Ter-Petrosian not intent on discontinuing his fight against the kleptocratic regime but will carry this mission to a victorious end with even greater vigor,” it said.
“We must formalize the fact that an unprecedented smear campaign is being waged against us,” the campaign manager, Aleksandr Arzumanian, told RFE/RL separately. “We will win whether or not this campaign is deemed an obstacle.”
Arzumanian said the Ter-Petrosian campaign also appealed to the Central Election Commission (CEC) to “ensure candidates’ equal rights guaranteed by the constitution.” Specifically, the ex-presidents wants to get as much airtime as Public Television’s H1 channel, the most accessible in Armenia, has spent covering his activities.
H1 and Armenia’s other leading broadcasters loyal to the government have attacked Ter-Petrosian on a virtually daily basis ever since he ended his decade-long political retirement to condemn the country’s “corrupt and criminal” leadership and announce his participation in the presidential ballot. Local media watchdogs have repeatedly criticized them for showing “unprecedented” bias against the ex-president.
The criticism was echoed last week by election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “In contrast to the almost exclusively positive or neutral coverage afforded to [Prime Minister] Serzh Sarkisian, Levon Ter-Petrosian was regularly portrayed in a negative light,” they said in their first interim report on the Armenian presidential race.