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Armenia: Polls Suggest Presidential Race Is Wide Open

  • Liz Fuller

Is Sarkisian's star falling? (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) September 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian is far from being Armenia's most popular politician at the moment, even though he is widely seen as the favorite to win the presidential election due in early 2008.


One recent opinion poll ranks him in fourth place, after Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, opposition Zharangutiun party leader Raffi Hovannisian, and millionaire businessman Gagik Tsarukian, while a second poll found only 11 percent support for Sarkisian.


Sarkisian to this point had been seen as the most likely successor to incumbent President Robert Kocharian, who is barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term.


The perception derives primarily from the control Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) exert over many government bodies, and from the vast financial resources at their disposal. Those levers are thought to have been the decisive factor in the HHK's landslide victory in the May 12 parliamentary elections. As in previous ballots, opposition parties cast doubts on the accuracy and fairness of the official results.

Powerful Figures

Gevorg Poghosian, director of the Armenian Sociological Association (ASA), on September 4 cited some of the hitherto unpublicized findings of a U.S.-funded opinion poll conducted by the ASA in July. That poll was the latest in a series of quarterly surveys designed and coordinated by the Gallup Organization. The U.S. International Republican Institute (IRI) began commissioning them last year with the aim of gauging public opinion on key issues facing Armenia.

One of the questions some 1,200 Armenians randomly interviewed on July 5-12 were asked to answer was: "Which presidential candidate would you vote for if the presidential elections were held next Sunday?" Poghosian told RFE/RL that Sarkisian ranked only in fourth place, behind Oskanian, Hovannisian, and Tsarukian.

Prime Minister Sarkisian and his party have vast financial resources at their disposal and exert significant control over many government bodies.

Poghosian refused to reveal what percentage of support each of the four could count on, saying that the collated results of respondents' answers to the question are not subject to publication. But he said the pollsters have informed the politicians in question about their respective ratings.

Poghosian did, however, disclose popular support, as measured by the ASA poll, for former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, who is reportedly considering running for president. He said it stands at about 1.7 percent. "I don't see popular demand for the first president's return to power," he added.

Of the potential candidates covered by the poll, only Hovannisian has publicized his rating -- 19 percent -- which is posted on the Zharangutiun website.


Oskanian, who like Hovannisian is a former U.S. citizen, signaled late last year that he too might join the presidential race, thereby fuelling speculation that he, rather than Sarkisian, might succeed Kocharian. Kocharian for his part has not yet publicly commented on his preferred successor.

A second opinion poll, conducted by the APR group, the findings of which were summarized on September 5 by the independent daily "Aravot," registered 11 percent support for Sarkisian; he was followed by Hovannisian with 8.4 percent and Ter-Petrossian with 2.9 percent. Over one-third of the unspecified number of people polled -- almost 38 percent -- were unable to decide for whom they would vote if elections were held now.


Recent statements by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), which signed a cooperation agreement with the coalition government formed after the May parliamentary ballot by the HHK and Tsarukian's Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia) party, that it will field its own candidate in next year's presidential ballot rather than endorse Sarkisian's candidacy likewise call into question the perception that Sarkisian's victory is a given.


Closing Ranks


HHK parliament faction leader Karen Karapetian on August 27 downplayed the HHD's disinclination to endorse Sarkisian, predicting that Sarkisian will win the election even without the HHD's support.


Karapetian further expressed confidence that Tsarukian's Prosperous Armenia, together with "many other parties and NGOs," will close ranks behind Sarkisian.


In the past, the findings of polls conducted by Poghosian's organization in the run-up to elections have served as a remarkably accurate indicator of the ultimate results. Opposition leaders have long accused Poghosian of permitting the Armenian leadership to misconstrue his findings as part of a broader effort to conceal and legitimize election fraud. Poghosian denies those accusations, insisting on the credibility of the ASA surveys.


(With contributions from Astgik Bedevian and Emil Danielyan of RFE/RL's Armenian Service)

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