08/02/2008 - D-7
On 19th February next, 2.3 million Armenians are being called to ballot in the first round of the presidential election. Outgoing President Robert Kotcharian, in office since 1998, cannot stand for a third term in office since he was re-elected on 5th March 2003. Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian (Republican Party HHK), is by far the favourite. He is credited with 60% of the vote in the polls and might be elected in the first round directly. If this is not the case a second round will be organised on 4th March.
250 observers will be responsible for ensuring that the election is undertaken correctly in a country where electoral fraud regularly marks election results. "Citizens will be able to check on the results via the Internet," maintained Abram Bakhchagulian, a Republican Party member and manager of the Central Electoral Committee's site.
Nine people are running:
- Serzh Sarkisian, present Prime Minister and leader of the Republican Party (HHK) has the support of the outgoing President Robert Kotcharian and Prosperous Armenia (BHK) led by Gagik Tsarukian;
- Levon Ter-Petrossian, former and first President of Armenia (1991-1998) who in September 1991 led his country to independence. He has the support of the People's Party of Armenia led by Stepan Demirchian, Republic (H), the Armenian Democratic Party led by Aram Sarkisian and the Pan-Armenian National Movement (HHSh) led by Ararat Zurabian;
- Artur Baghdasarian, leader of the opposition party, Rule of Law (OE), former chairman of Parliament (Azgayin Zhoghov –National Assembly, the only house in parliament);
- Vahan Hovhannisian, member of the Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (HHD) and member of the present government coalition;
- Artaches Guegamian, leader of the National Unity Party (AM) and candidate in the presidential election on 19th February and 5th March 2003 (16.9% of the vote in the first round);
- Vazgen Manoukian, former Prime Minister (1990-1991) and leader of the National Democratic Union (AzhM) who has the support of the National Democratic Bloc, the Constitutional Rights Union and the National State Party;
- Aram Harutyunian, leader of the National Solidarity Party and candidate in the presidential election on 19th February and 5th March 2003 (2.8% of the vote in the first round);
- Arman Melikian, former Foreign Minister for Nagorny Karabakh;
- Tigran Karapetian, leader of the People's Party, businessman and manager of a media company ALM.
The Electoral Campaign
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian has focused his electoral campaign on the eradication of poverty; "I can assure you that this time we shall fight the domestic enemy: poverty," he said. Declaring that 20% of Armenians live below the poverty line (a figure which is lower than that of five years ago), he is promising to double the national GDP in the next five years, along with retirement pensions, salaries and social aid. The Prime Minister is confident and forecasts his victory in the first round. He has recruited 60,000 members and supporters of the Republican Party and Prosperous Armenia to help in his electoral campaign. "I shall never give you reason to regret having voted for me," says Serzh Sarkisian.
Former President of the Republic, Levon Ter-Petrossian is travelling around Armenia. He maintains that he has detected "signs of a fight for national liberation" during his visits to the various regions of the country. He is calling on his countrymen to vote in support of "avenging the fraudulent presidential elections of 1998 and 2003" and maintains that his victory will be that of Karen Demirtchian (former Chairman of Parliament, assassinated on 27th October 1999 during an attack that also led to the death of the Prime Minister at that time, Vazgen Sarkisian, along with six other political personalities). Levon Ter-Petrossian has the support of the Union of Volunteers led by Zhirayr Selfilian. Stepan Demirtchian, leader of the Popular Party and son of Karen, has committed in his favour and says he has confidence in the victory on the part of his candidate. He denounces the numerous hindrances encountered by the former Head of State as he undertakes his campaign and maintains that "he is naive in believing that the Armenian authorities will organise a free and democratic election."
Artur Baghdasarian, leader of Rule of Law chose "New Armenia, new opportunities" as his motto. He maintains that if he is elected Armenia will become one of the leading 50 States in the world and one of the first 30 in terms of science. The candidate is promising the creation of 20,000 new jobs per year, to double salaries and retirement pensions, to reduce taxes and interest rates, to reduce poverty and to ward off economic emigration. He says he supports the abolition of military service and the establishment of a professional army which would help reduce unemployment. Artur Baghdasarian denounces the fact that in spite of two-figure growth (13.5% in 2006), more than one million Armenians still live in poverty and that 933,000 people are unemployed. He is concerned about the 20% decline in the number of small companies between 2005 and 2007. Finally he denounces the prevalence of corruption and says that according to a World Bank report for each dollar of tax paid 50 cents are lost because of this scourge. He has the support of the Union of Businessmen, led by Stepan Aslanian.
Vahan Hovhannisian, (Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun), has suggested that voters sign a contract for the future. 70,000 people have signed the document in which the candidate promises to establish social reform, to protect fundamental rights, to ensure freedom and transparency of elections and the fair treatment of all citizens by the administration. Vahan Hovhannisian condemns politicians "who, rather than serve the State and the people, prefer to serve the authorities and monopolise the Armenian economy," as well as law and justice "which protect power and money." Although Erevan is benefiting from the effects of growth rural areas are still witnessing the daily decline of their socio-economic situation.
The Heritage Party (Z) the second opposition party in the Parliament with Rule of Law, has still not chosen the candidate it will support. Its leader former Foreign Affairs Minister, Raffi Hovannissian was not allowed to stand since the authorities refused to give him a certificate confirming that he had permanent residence in Armenia for the last ten years (born in the USA Raffi Hovannissian has been an Armenian citizen for the last six years). In January he said that his party would only make its choice after the first round. Rule of Law leader, Artur Baghdasarian seems, according to the polls, the mostly likely candidate to win Heritage Party supporters' votes.
For the time being, five candidates have requested the use of the pre-electoral funds: Artur Baghdasarian, Serzh Sarkisian, Vahan Hovhannisian, Levon Ter-Petrossian and Vazgen Manoukian.
Serguei Bagratian, chairman of the National Center of Applied Economics regrets that none of the candidates, notably Serzh Sarkisian and Levon Ter-Petrossian, have put figures to their electoral promises since all of these are greater than each other.
"The election will not be a confrontation between two ideologies but two personalities and two methods," maintains political analyst Alexander Iskandarian.
At just one week before the election Levon Ter-Petrossian's come-back hardly seems to have been the source of popular enthusiasm. In addition to this all of the polls show that the Armenians are against radical change and are above all looking for stability.
According to the latest poll by Sociometer, published on 1st February, Serzh Sarkisian is credited with 67% of the vote, Artur Baghdasarian with 9%, Levon Ter-Petrossian 6%, Vahan Hovhannisian 3%, Artaches Guegamian 2% and Vazgen Manoukian 1.5%. The three other candidates Tigran Karapetian, Aram Harutyunian and Arman Melikian, are below the 1% mark. Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian achieves his best results in rural areas since there they always vote for the ruling power. He is the most well known candidate even though Levon Ter-Petrossian benefits from his status of former Head of State.