The credibility of Armenia’s Presidential election is still in the balance.

Presidential candidate starts his campaign with a hunger strike.

Presidential candidate starts his campaign with a hunger strike.

With less than four weeks left before the Presidential Election in Armenia on February 18th the credibility of the whole process remains in the balance as an unusual situation develops with several of the eight candidates refusing to campaign, or announcing their withdrawal.

This election from the start did not look as if it was going to proceed according to normal practices. A number of leading contenders and key political forces declared their non-participation some time ago. Some hoped that this will open the way for new faces. But those that emerged do not seem to be playing by the traditional rules.

Andrias Ghukasyan, one of the presidential candidates, has been on a hunger-strike since the campaign kicked off on February 21st. As reported by Mr Ghukasyan has three demands: all the presidential candidates must withdraw from the election campaign for Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to remain alone; the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) of Armenia must invalidate Serzh Sargsyan’s registration; OSCE/ODIHR observers must not conduct monitoring in Armenia. Another Presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikyan visited Ghukasyan in an act of solidarity and said that he will join him in the hunger strike shortly. Earlier Hayrikyan had also demanded that the incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan steps aside from his post during the election campaign.

On the second day of the campaign, another Presidential candidate, announced that he will shortly withdraw  from the election Aram Harutyunyan noted that there will not be any competition of programs and a true election will not take place, and those that still remain in the list of presidential candidates are legitimizing the upcoming election.

Another presidential candidate, Vardan Sedrakyan than made an announcement that since he was so popular he was going to suspend his election campaign, in order to give a chance to the others to catch up.

A fifth Presidential candidate Armen Melikyan during the first week of the campaign also made some ambiguous statement that journalists understood to mean that he will be withdrawing from the election, but he subsequently continued a low key campaign.

Apart from the incumbent President that leaves two credible Presidential candidates: Raffi Hovhannesian leader of the Heritage Party and Hrant Bagratian leader of the Liberal Party. According to one observer, “Both are known faces in Armenian politics – known enough to be respected by the electorate but also known enough for everybody to understand that they do not constitute any real threat to the incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan.” Hovhannesian in particular has been trying to conduct a spirited campaign, even launching a special website to compete with that of the incumbent President

On the whole however, the campaign has been at best, tepid. Armenians could compare this with the more competitive campaign for the May 2012 Parliamentary election, which many suspect is going to remain the high point in recent Armenian election history.

Report prepared by the CEW staff team with Armenian media sources.