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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07YEREVAN1482 2007-12-28 13:18:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Yerevan
Cable title:  

OPPOSITION LEADER DECRIES BIASED OPINION POLL,

Tags:   PGOV PREL PHUM AM 
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VZCZCXRO1144
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHYE #1482/01 3621318
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 281318Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY YEREVAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6814
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 0533
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 YEREVAN 001482 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/CARC

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/27/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM AM
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION LEADER DECRIES BIASED OPINION POLL,
MEDIA COVERAGE IN RUN-UP TO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Classified By: CDA JOSEPH PENNINGTON, REASONS 1.4 (B,D).


-------
SUMMARY
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1. (C) SUMMARY: Presidential candidate Artur Bagdasaryan
invited the Charge to lunch to voice his deepening concerns
about the upcoming presidential election. He complained that
overwhelmingly biased media coverage, the combination of
expensive air time and campaign spending limits, and "black
PR" by the authorities were hamstringing his campaign. He
also lamented that the authorities were abusively misusing
the national opinion poll commissioned by the Mission to
unfairly buoy the campaign of Prime Minister (and
front-runner) Serzh Sargsyan. He claimed that if the
election did not go to two rounds it would mean the results
will have been falsified. End summary.



--------------------------


THE POLL


--------------------------





2. (C) Presidential candidate Artur Bagdasaryan (leader of
the Rule of Law party and former Speaker of the National
Assembly) invited the Charge and poloff to lunch at his
party's headquarters December 26, where he and his deputy
expressed concern about a number of issues related to the
election process. Foremost on his mind were the results and
methodology of the recently released national opinion poll
funded by USAID and commissioned by IRI, which he says was
not objective and was being unfairly used by the government
to strengthen the Prime Minister's presidential campaign.
(Note: IRI's standard practice is to share the results with
political parties and presidential candidates, and to release
more general, issue-related information to the public. The
latest poll, taken in early December, was the seventh such
poll conducted since May, 2006, and one more is planned in
mid-January, 2008. End note.)



3. (C) Challenging the poll's methodology and accuracy,
Bagdasaryan insisted that 60 percent of the Armenians who
participate in the poll are not being candid because the
interviews take place in their homes ) usually an apartment
building, where police or someone else with ties to the
authorities is likely to learn of the pollster's visit and
make sure the answers were "correct." He proposed that
Gallup conduct anonymous, "random" surveys in cafes,
restaurants and in the streets to address this issue. (Note:
While the seven surveys so far have consistently shown
Bagdasaryan running second, he is far behind the
front-runner, Prime Minister Sargsyan. End note.)



4. (C) Bagdasaryan also complained about Gallup's partner in
Armenia, the Armenian Sociological Association (ASA), which
he insisted is pro-Government (the GOAM says it is
pro-opposition). He asked that the Embassy join him in
requesting Gallup to use only foreign personnel in the
upcoming opinion poll, as he said ASA's pollsters could not
be trusted. He then offered to finance the logistical
expenses for bringing the foreign pollsters to Armenia.
Asked how the polls' accuracy could be questioned when all
seven over the last 19 months have consistently shown the
same results, Bagdasaryan and his deputy Mher Shahgeldian
said ASA was falsifying the data it collected. (Note: The
poll has been conducted quarterly, with the same questions,
and given each time to different sets of 1,200 respondents
over age 18. It has a margin of error of three percent. End
note.)



--------------------------


OTHER POLITICAL LEADERS ON POLL (


--------------------------





5. (U) Bagdasaryan's criticism was preceded earlier in the
week by ex-President Levon Ter-Petrossian (LTP) and Dashnak
presidential candidate Vahan Hovanissian. Both publicly
voiced criticism of the poll's results, calling them
fraudulent given their collection by pollsters from ASA.
Ter-Petrossian impugned ASA's data, charging that it always
coincided with official results of past elections that were
subsequently criticized by the international community. On
December 27, the third major opposition presidential
candidate, Vazgen Manukian of the National Democratic Union
party, also criticized the poll at a press conference, saying
"nobody in Armenia has ever had trust in opinion polls."
Manukian also hotly disputed the 30 percent figure the most

YEREVAN 00001482 002 OF 003


recent poll ascribed to front-runner Sargsyan, insisting his
popularity was not that high.



--------------------------

--
( AND THE PRIME MINISTER'S TAKE ON POLL RESULTS


--------------------------

--



6. (C) Not surprisingly, front-runner Serzh Sargsyan has
defended the results of the recent poll, and the polling
process itself. The Prime Minister said the polls were
important because they allowed people an opportunity to
express themselves, influence the direction of government
work, and provide guidance on social issues. Acerbically
responding to the presidential candidates who have called the
polls fraudulent, Sargsyan said "My opponents can tell fairy
tales that I bribed the polling centers ( but this would not
affect the correct science that deals with public opinion
polls." (Note: Prior to the release of the latest poll
results, Sargsyan publicly supported the holding of an exit
poll on election day, after we broached the idea with him
directly. End note.)



--------------------------


MEDIA FREEDOM AND "BLACK PR"


--------------------------





7. (C) Bagdasaryan and his deputy Shahgeldian also decried
the "unprecedented" media situation in the country, claiming
it was severely hamstringing Bagdasaryan's presidential
campaign. Shahgeldian said his boss had been interviewed on
TV only five times since the May parliamentary elections, and
himself and another key party deputy only three times in the
same time period. He also said the media ignored
Bagdasaryan's December 11 meeting with European ambassadors.




8. (C) Bagdasaryan said another real problem for his campaign
would be the combination of rising prices for paid airtime
and the campaign spending cap of 70 million drams
(approximately USD 23,300). He charged that that sum alone
would mean he could afford only six minutes of daily spots on
only three of the country's 17 major channels throughout the
election campaign. (Note: All presidential candidates will
be provided with free airtime on public media as well, though
precise figures have not yet been released. Not yet
confirmed, the price per minute of paid airtime quoted by
Bagdasaryan is USD 500. End note.)



9. (C) Bagdasaryan urged the Embassy to speak out more
strongly on the issue of media freedom, citing monitoring
statistics he claimed show a strong bias for the PM. He
alleged that Prime Minister Sargsyan had been shown 10,000
times in the past eight months while his two party deputies
had been shown only three times. He compared with this the
coverage of allies of the authorities, who had been shown 200
times in the same period. He added that regional TV stations
outside of Yerevan had inexplicably refused to air paid
political advertisements before the election, and that
additional unspecified "administrative pressure" was being
exerted on behalf of the PM's campaign. His deputy
complained of "black PR," where TV channels were showing
video footage of opposition candidates without airing the
accompanying audio. Instead, he said channels were using
their own editorial voice-over to mischaracterize what the
candidates were saying.



--------------------------


ELECTION PREDICTIONS


--------------------------





10. (C) Queried on possible election scenarios, Bagdasaryan
predicted that the election will go to a second round. He
said "if it doesn't, that means the results were falsified."
When prodded, Bagdasaryan confirmed that he would support
ex-President Ter-Petrossian if it came down to Ter-Petrossian
and PM Sargsyan in the second round. He also assured us that
Ter-Petrossian would support his candidacy if it was he who
advanced to the second round.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





11. (C) Bagdasaryan's complaints about the media environment
point to a real problem area for him and the rest of the
opposition, and are a telltale sign that the presidential
campaign is heating up. The imbalance in media coverage
cited by Bagdasaryan has been noted publicly as an area of

YEREVAN 00001482 003 OF 003


concern by both the Embassy and the OSCE. His protests
regarding the IRI poll strike us as less serious, especially
when he claimed that his own "independent" polling data show
him beating the PM by about 10 percentage points. Reactions
to the poll have been somewhat surprising, especially from
opposition candidates who normally characterize election
assistance from the international community as a good thing.
Critiques aside, the fact that the poll has focused society's
attention on the important electoral process underway prove
its value as an effective awareness-building mechanism to
address voter apathy. End comment.

PENNINGTON