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Armenia: Opposition Candidate Files Complaint Over 'Insurmountable Obstacles' To Campaign

Levon Ter-Petrossian (AFP) With Armenia's presidential election less than two weeks away, a leading opposition candidate has formally accused the front-runner, Serzh Sarkisian, of gaining an unfair advantage through his position as prime minister.

Former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, who is one of eight opposition candidates running against the heavily favored Sarkisian, wrote to the Constitutional Court to complain about the "insurmountable obstacles" his campaign has encountered at the hands of the authorities.

Specifically mentioning the negative coverage he has received over the past three months from Armenian State Television, Ter-Petrossian formally asked the court to remove those obstacles.

If the court, chaired by a man who served as vice president in Ter-Petrossian's administration in the early 1990s, rules in his favor, the February 19 election could be postponed for two weeks. If after that time the obstacles have still not been removed, a new election must be scheduled after a 40-day interval.

Just ahead of Ter-Petrossian's move, international election observers, too, voiced their concerns about Sarkisian's heavy reliance on government levers in his campaign, and pledged to investigate a brawl that nearly disrupted a campaign rally by Ter-Petrossian.

Geert-Hinrich Ahrens, the head of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's international election-monitoring mission deployed in Armenia, tells RFE/RL that Sarkisian's "use of the position of prime minister in the election campaign" could hamper the proper conduct of the vote.

"There is no international rule that would prevent a prime minister from participating as a candidate in a presidential race," Ahrens says. "But such a situation, of course, puts a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of the prime minister not to use his office to promote his candidacy."

Sarkisian has denied accusations that his position as prime minister and his Republican Party's powerful role in the government has led to unfairly extensive television coverage and the abuse of administrative resources.

Replying to a question posed by an opposition parliamentarian, Sarkisian this week pledged to do everything in his power to "ensure that Armenia's future president has a good reputation."

"As you know elections in Armenia are monitored by numerous observers," Sarkisian said. "And if the observers say that I, as you claim, have blatantly violated the law and inflicted great damage on the country, I will think about this issue."

Sarkisian is the anointed successor of incumbent President. Robert Kocharian, who is barred from seeking a third term under the constitution. Since announcing his candidacy, most observers have considered a Sarkisian win to be inevitable.

Other candidates vying for the post are Artur Baghdasarian, a former parliament speaker who was forced to resign after feuding publicly with the president over NATO membership; Vahan Hovannisian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun; and National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian, who ran unsuccessfully in the presidential elections in 1998 and 2003.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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