Armenia: Premier Whips Up Election Support

But Sarkisian’s presidential election bid marred by opposition claims that many attending his rallies have been bussed in.

Armenia: Premier Whips Up Election Support

But Sarkisian’s presidential election bid marred by opposition claims that many attending his rallies have been bussed in.

Wednesday, 6 February, 2008
More traffic jams, I’m fed up with this!” complained the driver of minibus No. 12, struggling through the congestion caused by a rally for the official presidential candidate and prime minister Serzh Sarkisian.

Many streets in the capital were closed to public transport on the afternoon of February 2, as Sarkisian met residents of the Arabkir district. Around two thousand people came to hear him predict victory in the February 19 presidential elections and promise voters a better future.

Sarkisian is the favourite in the poll, but facing a strong challenge from two opposition candidates, former president Levon Ter-Petrosian (See following article) and former speaker of parliament Artur Baghdasarian.

The crowd was full of red-blue-and-orange Armenian flags, the white flags of the governing Republican Party and multi-coloured balloons. Some waved the flags of the SAS supermarket which is also supporting Sarkisian. At the end of the rally, the organisers released doves into the air.

Sarkisian spoke from a stand in front of a poster with his slogan “Forward, Armenia!” His campaign is based on the pledge that he has the experience and ideas to make Armenia prosperous. In particular, he is promising better education for Armenians.

“I promise that in 2012 you will be living twice as well and you will feel changes for the better every day,” he told the crowd. “A fair person can notice that there is already big progress in our lives.

“It is extremely important that immediately after the elections we can start work on carrying out our programmes.”

However, the enthusiasm of the organisers spoiled the event as his words were drowned out by their shouts of “Forward Armenia!” Even the front of the crowd found it hard to make out what the candidate was saying.

Opposition newspapers and politicians maintain that the people who attend Sarkisian’s rallies in different parts of Yerevan are bussed in from other districts and that government workers and other state employees are brought in to swell the numbers.

“Do you live in Arabkir?” I asked a young man of around 30 in the crowd.

“I live in Yerevan,” he replied with a laugh.

Some in the crowd did not want to speak to this reporter at all, others gave very brief answers. The most helpful respondents were Republican Party activists. “No one brought us here,” said one woman who had come with her friend, both of them members of the Arabkir branch of the Republican Party. “We have great hopes and expectations for the future.”

Another man of around 50 named Vardan said he had come here other party members from a distant district of Yerevan. “All promises sound alike but there is a hope that one of the candidates will do everything for the Armenian people and that candidate is Serzh Sarkisian,” he said.

Another weak point for Sarkisian, which his opponents play on, is that, like his long-term ally current president Robert Kocharian, he comes from Nagorny Karabakh and not from Armenia itself.

He addressed this point by saying, “Let’s get away from labels like ‘from here’ or ‘not from here’. We are offering unity and the chance for everyone to take part in our work.”

As soon as Sarkisian had finished speaking, groups of people began to move away, not waiting for the concert that followed his speech to begin.

Large numbers of people hurried to get seats on buses standing not far from the square.

“Excuse me where is this bus going?” I asked a young man standing next to one of the buses. “Kanaker,” he said, naming a district of Yerevan. A few hours before Sarkisian had held a rally in the Kanaker-Zeitun area.

As people moved away, the traffic started up again on nearby Kasyan Street, which had bee closed for several hours.

Three female residents of Arabkir, who said they were refugees from Azerbaijan, had come to the rally with a letter addressed to Sarkisian, asking for their apartments to be privatised.

“He is from Karabakh and we have Karabakhi roots,” said one of the woman, Zoya, who was in her fifties. “Who can we vote for if not for him?”

They said that they had come with their request now because if Sarkisian becomes president “it will get even harder to get to see him”. They had tried several times to meet the prime minister but without success.

Karine Asatrian is a correspondent for A1+ in Yerevan.

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