Prime Minister (2007 - )
, Republican Party of Armenia leader (2007 - )
An Armenian-language philologist by education, 53-year-old Serzh Sarkisian, a native of Nagorno Karabakh, first came to public notice as one of the organizers of the breakaway territory's armed resistance to Azerbaijan in the late 1980s. He later went on to become the territory's de facto defense minister.
Security issues paved the way for Sarkisian's later political career within Armenia. In 1993, he was named defense minister under then President Levon Ter Petrosian, his rival in the 2008 presidential vote. From 1995-1999, he served as head of the National Security Council, going on to resume his post as defense minister in 2000 under President Robert Kocharian, a fellow Karabakh native.
Sarkisian oversaw the defense ministry until the March 2007 death of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and his appointment in his place as premier. Sarkisian also, effectively, inherited Markarian's leadership of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia. In November 2007, he was formally elected as the party's leader.
Believed to be one of the most influential men in Armenia, Prime Minister Sarkisian draws much of his political base from his close ties with Armenia's business community, security agencies and defense ministry.
The Republican Party which Sarkisian heads controls not only the government, but also most local government structures. The overlap means that accusations of abuse of administrative resources are common: local officials often bring residents to Sarkisian rallies; public employees, students, as well as those whose livelihoods depend on his supporters (e.g. traders who rent spaces in a market whose owner supports Sarkisian) are also reportedly taken. References to Sarkisian on television often refer to him simply as prime minister, not as a candidate.
Sarkisian's election campaign touts the fact that under the Republican Party (in power since 1999), Armenia's living standards have considerably improved. Poverty has been halved to roughly 26 percent of the population over the past seven years, according to official statistics.
The prime minister's campaign touts him as a tested leader, who avoids giving unrealistic promises, allegedly unlike most other candidates. Sarkisian has tagged fighting poverty and corruption as his chief goals.
The ad strategy appears to be to present Sarkisian as invincible. Large billboards and small banners with his smiling face are everywhere. Overwhelmingly positive support from public television, the only TV channel which can be watched in all parts of Armenia, also serves this purpose. The state-owned channel routinely airs information about Sarkisian's campaign events on the following day, using a clip from the event rather than an actual report -- a tactic that has subjected the channel to criticism from some local journalists.
2 Melik-Adamian Square