- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 January 31, 2003 

Decision 2003: Opposition candidates unhappy with campaign conditions

Suren Surenyants says opposition presented as "boring".Members of "oppositional" parties are charging that the incumbent Government is using unfair means to limit oppositional candidates' campaigns.

Politicians and their handlers who are contesting the February 19 election, say that the predominantly pro-government television stations carry reports on the President's daily activities and, by default, exclude other candidates from public recognition. Further, they say Robert Kocharyan's paid commercials get the best air time.

Suren Surenyants, press secretary for Aram Z. Sargsyan, says that even when opposition candidates make the news: "It is presented on TV as a boring, uninteresting and dull meeting, which was attended only by several old people and there was nobody to support that candidate.

"If before people in sign of respect and love used to make matagh by slaughtering a sheep at the feet of Karen Demirchyan then these days they do the same for his son (candidate Stepan Demirchyan). However, unlike the past, today it is interpreted completely differently, motivated by the love towards animals."

Some candidates have started making lists of what they see as unfair campaigning and some have printed brochures pointing out certain incidences.

Observers say that the opposition has been especially hampered this year by increases in advertising costs.

Aghasi Arshakyan says opposition gets unfair treatment."Unlike previous Presidential elections this time not all of the candidates will have possibility to show their political spots and advertisements on TV," Surenyants says.

By law, candidates are allowed to spend approximately $100,000 during the campaign. This election, television advertising time has increased sharply.

According to Surenyants five central private TV companies - Armenia, Prometheus, Shant, ALM and Kentron, -- which have the largest audiences, have increased airtime to $120 per minute whereas before it was possible to buy the same time for $20.

"All of us perfectly realize that conditions like that are dictated not by the demands of market but for creating obstacles to some, especially oppositional candidates as they always look for something to hinder us," Surenyants says. "And unlike the acting President, whom it seems no law extends to and whose spots are always shown on TV, we haven't got many possibilities of making use of all those things."

Aghasi Arshakyan, representative of Artashes Geghamyan, says unfair treatment of the opposition extends beyond television advertising.

"Several days before the start of pre-election campaign all communities' heads were verbally ordered to increase by approximately 400 percent the prices for political advertisement," he says. "Before the prices for advertising on posters were $4-$8 per one square meter and now one square meter costs $30 and more. We also have information that those advertising agencies were terrorized that their businesses would be taken from them."

Some incidents may simply be seen as gamesmanship. Two weeks ago, during Raffi Hovannisian's court hearing to determine his status as a candidate, several large athletes appeared at the hearing, allegedly sent their by Serge Sarksyan, Kocharyan's campaign manager (and Minister of Defense) to restrict the possibilities for Hovannisian supporters

Earlier this week someone set fire to one of Artashes Geghyamyan's campaign billboards on the edge of Yerevan.

The campaign is being blamed as a reason for vandalism and destruction of property in the city of Ashtarak. One TV station's telephone wires were cut, its equipment thrown out and the staff evicted by the landlord after the station broadcast videotape of Aram Z. Sargsyan

Surenyants charges that pro-government advocates recently tried to close his candidate's campaign offices in Talin, and that "they create artificial problems for creating obstacle to our work as much as illegally they can."


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  Photos of the week
  Photo of the week: Talk Time
Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Talk Time

In 19 days Armenia will elect a President. Until then voters will be talked to by candidates such as Stepan Demirchyan (top). And some, such as President Robert Kocharyan (bottom), will be talked back to.



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