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#45 - JRL 2008-35 - JRL Home
February 19, 2008
Armenia: Voting Under Way For New President
Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

Armenians are voting in a presidential election in which the favorite, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, will have to overcome tough competition to walk away with a first-round victory.

Voters are choosing from nine candidates, although just three are seen as having any realistic chance to win outright or in a second round.

Sarkisian is widely expected to garner the most votes in the first round, and would require more than 50 percent of the vote to earn a victory in the first round. The 53-year-old prime minister, who is running on the ticket of the Republican Party of Armenia, is incumbent President Robert Kocharian's preferred successor.

But Sarkisian faces strong competition from Levon Ter-Petrossian, the 63-year-old former president who is hoping to regain the post from which he was forced to resign in 1998.

The dark-horse candidate for a second-place finish is former parliamentary speaker Artur Baghdasarian. The 39-year-old Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) candidate is calling for Armenia's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.

"For me, the most important thing is that these elections go well, and that people trust the results that emerge," Sarkisian said after casting his ballot at a public school this morning, "[regardless of] whether it's the first or second round."

In the run-up to the poll, the opposition has consistently cited campaign irregularities and claimed that Sarkisian has unfairly benefited from his position as prime minister.

The opposition has vowed to take to the streets on February 20 if they perceive that election results have been rigged.

Tom de Waal, Caucasus editor for the London-based Institute For War And Peace Reporting, said the outcome of the first-round vote and the likelihood of protests was difficult to predict.

"I think it's actually quite a worrying situation in Armenia, because I think the opposition will probably not accept a Serzh Sarkisian victory in the first round, and I think they are already preparing to demonstrate against this," de Waal said. "So it's quite an unpredictable situation."

Welfare and social issues were the main domestic issues addressed by candidates during the campaign.

Sarkisian touted the country's double-digit economic growth, in contrast to the dismal economy during Ter-Petrossian's reign as Armenia's first post-Soviet president.

Ter-Petrossian, meanwhile, targeted widespread corruption, and promised a better and transparent future for a country in which more than one in four people lives below the poverty line.

The status of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, over which Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a bloody war from 1988-94, was also a hot-button topic. Ter-Petrossian and Sarkisian have long-standing differences over how to tackle the issue of formally resolving the conflict.

The issue has gained traction among voters after another so-called "frozen conflict," that between Serbia and Kosova, entered a new phase with Kosova's declaration of independence on February 17.

Today's vote is being monitored by hundreds of observers from the OSCE and CIS, as well as dozens of monitors from the Council of Europe and other organizations. The OSCE observers will give their assessment on February 20.

The voting will last 12 hours. The initial results are expected on February 20, and the final results must be released within seven days of the vote.