President Serzh Sarkisian and seven other candidates were formally registered on Monday to run in Armenia’s upcoming presidential election.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) swiftly approved their inclusion on the ballot almost a week after the legal deadline for the submission of documents needed to enter the presidential race.
Two of the registered candidates, former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian and former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian, are widely expected to be Sarkisian’s main challengers. Few observers think, however, they can scuttle the incumbent’s reelection.
Sarkisian’s main potential rival, Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian, unexpectedly withdrew from the race on December 8 after months of apparent preparations for a presidential bid.
The February 18 election is also effectively boycotted by two other major opposition groups, Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). They both have said that the vote will not be free and fair, dismissing government pledges to prevent serious fraud.
The pool of candidates also includes Paruyr Hayrikian, a Soviet-era dissident returning to active politics, Arman Melikian, Nagorno-Karabakh’s former foreign minister, and Aram Harutiunian, a university professor. Melikian and Harutiunian took part in previous presidential elections, polling less than 1 percent of the vote.
The two other registered candidates, Andreas Ghukasian and Vartan Sedrakian, are newcomers to the political arena. Ghukasian is a political analyst managing a private radio station based in Yerevan. He last week called on all candidates challenging Sarkisian to drop out of the race “predetermined” by the government and thus undermine the legitimacy of the country’s “criminal-oligarchic system.”
Much less is known about Sedrakian. The latter is making a name for himself with flamboyant statements and extravagant campaign promises. He has said in particular that he would be ready to spend as much as $2 million on his presidential bid that has been advertised on Facebook in recent months.
The CEC on Monday also refused to register seven other, mostly little-known contenders who failed to pay a cash deposit of 8 million drams ($20,000) required by the Electoral Code. They have condemned this requirement as unfair and unconstitutional. One of them, Robert Simonian, claims to have lodged an appeal to the Constitutional Court.