Vote 2013: Election body, presidential candidates gear up for campaign

Vote 2013: Election body, presidential candidates gear up for campaign

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The Central Election Commission (CEC) and the eight candidates in Armenia’s presidential election are actively preparing for the official start of the campaign next Monday.

Following the schedule of the elections defined by the law, the CEC is making all the necessary preparations for the ballot slated for February 18, while the presidential candidates hold press conferences, present their views through online social networking sites and outline the main provisions of their election programs.

Political analyst Andrias Ghukasyan, who became known to the public last year due to his active participation in the Mashtots Park standoff between developers and the greens (as a member of the so-called boutique dismantling brigade) has urged the CEC to annul the registration of incumbent president Serzh Sargsyan as a candidate in the election by January 21 because the ruling party and its candidate abuse their position in the state. He threatened to start a hunger strike unless his demand was met.

“I think that the paramount right of the public to a free choice in this political situation can be realized only by the exclusion of the ruling political party’s candidate from the elections. I am sure that a study of international experience will convince the CEC members that the state has the right to deprive a candidate of the opportunity to participate in elections when such participation is a threat to the supreme public interest,” said Ghukasyan, director of Radio Hay, adding that before that he would consider his own rights and the rights of the public to be violated.

Last week Ghukasyan urged the six presidential candidates running against the government candidate Sargsyan to jointly withdraw from the race, leaving the incumbent president alone. But the major opposition candidates, including Liberty Party leader, former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan, Heritage party leader Raffi Hovannisian and National Self-Determination Union Chairman Paruyr Hayrikyan, did not approve of such an initiative, to put it mildly. In fact, Ghukasyan has now adopted a different tactic – to ‘eliminate’ Sargsyan from the race.

The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) has taken this demand calmly. “It is a citizen’s right to resort to a hunger strike, struggle within the framework of the law and present his or her opinion. But speaking with ultimatums is not appropriate,” RPA spokesperson Eduard Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

Meanwhile, several media reported on plans by Heritage Party leader Hovannisian to engage in his campaign a person who also contributed to an Obama campaign in the United States. The Hraparak daily reported that before the New Year holidays Hovannisian asked U.S.-based Levon Baghramyan to come to Armenia and manage his campaign. The paper says the 30-year-old nephew of Marshal Hovhannes Baghramyan accepted the officer and is expected to arrive in Armenia this week.

Heritage Party spokesman Hovsep Khurshudyan has neither denied nor confirmed this information.

“The composition of Raffi Hovannisian’s campaign headquarters will be announced on January 21, but I can say that we are cooperating with different specialists from different countries, with our supporters,” Khurshudyan told ArmeniaNow.

Meanwhile, the ruling party’s candidate Sargsyan got the endorsement of the largest ethnic minority in Armenia, the Yezidis. The endorsement was announced by the Chairman of the Union of the World’s and Armenia’s Yezidis Aziz Tamoyan.

“Wherever I went I got the consent of all Yezidis. At least, this is our call. Anyone has the right not to agree with this,” Tamoyan, the leader of about a 40,000-strong Yezidi community, told reporters on Tuesday. Tamoyan several times complained in the past that their ethnic minority has no MP in the Armenian Parliament, but he remains firm in his position that ethnic minorities should be “next to the government”.