President Serzh Sarkisian will face no serious challengers in his bid to win a second term in office in an upcoming election, parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian said late on Tuesday.
“Of course, I don’t see today serious competitors of Serzh Sarkisian,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) during a visit to the Czech Republic. “That is my personal opinion. I don’t want to offend anyone. I just don’t see [strong opposition presidential candidates.]”
Other senior representatives of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) have also said in recent weeks that Sarkisian’s victory in the presidential election due in February is a forgone conclusion. This has triggered opposition allegations that the Armenian authorities are planning to rig the election.
Raffi Hovannisian, the leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party and one of Sarkisian’s likely challengers, hit back at Abrahamian on Wednesday. “In case of a truly free and fair election, the reality will be different,” Hovannisian said in a written statement. “Armenia would have … a new president, proud citizens, a strong state and a brilliant future.”
Hovannisian noted that the influential speaker managed Sarkisian’s and the HHK’s campaigns for the last national elections marred by opposition allegations of fraud. He said they could try to rig the upcoming ballot as well.
The authorities deny this, with Sarkisian saying last week that his administration will save no effort to make the vote the most democratic in the country’s history.
With less than four months to go before the contest, it is still not clear who the incumbent president’s main challenger will be.
Aghvan Vartanian, a leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), insisted on Wednesday that the country’s leading opposition forces may still agree on a single candidate and seriously threaten Sarkisian’s reelection plans. “The situation in Armenia is such that any developments are possible,” Vartanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The course of the presidential race will depend, in large measure, on the stance of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which left Sarkisian’s ruling coalition after finishing second in last May’s parliamentary elections. The BHK has still not clarified whether it will nominate its own candidate.
Abrahamian expressed hope that the BHK will endorse Sarkisian’s reelection bid after all. He said the president should win with a “high percentage” of votes in order to successfully address Armenia’s problems.