An Armenian presidential candidate announced his withdrawal from the race and another one threatened to follow suit on Tuesday, expressing serious concern over the freedom and fairness of the February 18 election.
Aram Harutiunian, a scholar running for president for a third consecutive time, said he will stage a one-day hunger strike outside the Central Election Commission (CEC) before the February 8 official deadline for the withdrawal of presidential candidacies. He said he will formally ask the CEC to exclude his name from the ballot on that day.
Harutiunian attributed his decision to the fact that three leading Armenian opposition groups did not field or endorse any candidates. “If candidates representing 46 percent of voters are absent there can be no legitimate election,” he told a news conference, referring to their combined performance in the May 2012 elections.
Harutiunian, who leads a small party, himself polled less than 1 percent of the vote in the last two presidential ballots and was never regarded as a major contender. He urged the six other candidates challenging President Serzh Sarkisian to also quit the race in protest.
One of those hopefuls, Arman Melikian, said on Tuesday that he is ready, in principle, to do that. “If this situation does not change, taking part in the elections will be pointless as there will be a repeat of vote rigging,” he said.
Earlier this month, Melikian demanded that the CEC provide detailed information about the large number of voters absent from Armenia. Like the mainstream opposition, he claimed that hundreds of thousands of bogus votes were cast on their behalf for Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in the last national elections. The CEC, which strongly denies such allegations, rejected Melikian’s demand.
Melikian, who already ran for president and fared poorly in 2008, insisted that the absent voters are a key source of electoral fraud. “We must change this course because a state built on lies cannot have strong foundations,” he told reporters.
Melikian also announced that he is suspending his low-key election campaign and could drop out of the contest altogether.
Meanwhile, another presidential hopeful, Andreas Ghukasian, continued his open-air hunger strike in Yerevan, insisting that Sarkisian be barred from contesting the upcoming election. Ghukasian, who runs a private radio station, said he has no intention to end the protest and will “fight till the end.”