Significance of Vote

What's the importance of the February 19th presidential elections?
Despite recent constitutional amendments, presidential power is a make-or-break political force in Armenia. With the end of President Robert Kocharian's second term after ten years in office, the vote is widely seen as a referendum on whether to stick with the prevailing policy course - as represented by candidate and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, a longtime Kocharian ally - or to opt for a diversion in some form as represented by eight alternative presidential candidates.

Who's Who

How many candidates are running for president and what parties do they represent?
Nine candidates are in the race: Artur Baghdasarian, leader of the Orinats Yerkir (Rule of Law) Party; Artashes Geghamian, leader of the National Unity [Azgayin Miabanutiun] Party; Tigran Karapetian, leader of the People's Party [Zhoghovrakan]; Aram Harutiunian, Yerevan State University professor and leader of the National Accord Party [Azgayin Hamadzaynutiun]; Vazgen Manukian, leader of the National Democratic Union Party [Azgayin Zhoghovrdavarakan Miutiun]; Arman Melikian, former councilor to the de facto president of Nagorno Karabakh; Vahan Hovhannisian, deputy parliamentary speaker and senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun; Serzh Sarkisian, prime minister, leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia [Hayastan Hanrapetakan]; Levon Ter-Petrosian, former president of Armenia (1991-1998).

A number of political analysts believe that the main struggle will be waged between Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, as, arguably, the two best-known candidates. Geghamian, Manukian and Karapetian are repeat candidates.

Candidate Criteria

What are the criteria to run for president?
Any Armenian citizen who is over 35 years old and has lived at least 10 years in Armenia can run for president. Previously, candidates were also required to provide 50,000 voter signatures to support their candidacy. However, under the November 2007 election code amendments, that requirement was abolished. Candidates are required, though, to place a deposit of 8 million drams (roughly $26,000) with the Central Bank of Armenia. The sum is returned if the candidate receives more than 5 percent of the vote. According to Republican Party of Armenia Secretary Samvel Nikoian, a co-author of the election law changes, the amendment was needed to avoid having too many candidates. "There are many able to collect 50,000 signatures and become a candidate, but giving money and losing it is a risk."

Campaign Finance

What limits are put on campaign spending?
Candidates are allowed to spend no more than $230,000 [about 70 million dram] for the campaign. Individuals and so-called "legal entities" other than state organizations, joint stock companies, charities, religious organizations and companies with at least 30 percent foreign investment can transfer up to $700 [about 200,000 dram] and $1,600 [about 500,000 dram], respectively. Campaign accounts are held in the Central Bank of Armenia. The candidate himself can transfer no more than $33,000 [about 10 million dram] to his own account. Banks are required to submit to the Central Election Commission notifications about deposits made to the election accounts every third day.

Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Armenia will be monitoring campaigns for abuse of administrative resources.

Television Time

How much access do opposition candidates have to television, according to media monitoring reports?
A January 26 interim report from the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission reported "a clear imbalance in . . .coverage of the prospective candidates" among most broadcast media in the January 11-20 run-up to the start of the official campaign season.

The report found that three out of seven TV stations monitored gave Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian the majority of their coverage, although mostly in his capacity as a government official. Coverage of Sarkisian was deemed "almost exclusively positive or neutral." Former President Levon Ter Petrosian, perhaps the most closely watched opposition candidate among international organizations, "was regularly portrayed in a negative light." Radio stations, by contrast, tended to present Sarkisian more frequently as a candidate; public radio, in particular, was "more balanced in the amount of time allocated to the prospective candidates than TV channels."

Monitoring performed by the Yerevan Press Club between November 1 and 30, 2007 demonstrated a similar trend: Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian received 80 percent of the campaign coverage on Armenia's seven television channels with 90 percent of the coverage deemed positive. Former President Levon Ter Petrosian, by contrast, has been the subject of 48 percent of overall TV coverage, with 67 percent of the coverage considered negative.

During the election campaign, presidential candidates have access to 60 minutes of free airtime and 120 minutes of paid airtime on public television and 120 minutes of free spots and 180 minutes of paid spots on public radio. Prices, however, run steep: roughly $225-$350 per minute on television. (Radio commands 20,000 dram or roughly $65 per minute.) The time schedule for free broadcasts -- as set by the Central Election Commission -- runs between 1:30 - 3:00 pm on radio and 5:15 - 7:00 pm on TV. The opposition complains that most people work during those hours and are not listening to the radio or watching TV.

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