"Haykakan Zhamanak" reports that 16 opposition parties making up a loose alliance will hold a joint conference early next month if they reach an agreement on a single presidential candidate in the coming weeks. But the paper does not yet see such agreement on the horizon. It says HZhK leader Stepan Demirchian will be supported by Shavarsh Kocharian and his National Democratic Party, which split from Vazgen Manukian's National Democratic Union last year.
"Aravot" says that the London-based former prime minister Armen Sarkisian, who was seen as a potentially strong opposition candidate, will most probably decide against running in the February elections. Sources familiar with his thinking attribute this to pressure allegedly exerted on him by the Armenian authorities during his recent visit to Russia.
Meanwhile, Arkady Vartanian, the Moscow-based businessman who unsuccessfully crossed swords with Robert Kocharian in 2000, continues to make a strong case for Levon Ter-Petrosian's return to power. Interviewed by "Haykakan Zhamanak," Vartanian urges Armenians to "put aside emotions" and elect Ter-Petrosian as president. He says that only the ex-president can rid Armenia of Kocharian's "Bolshevik dictatorship." According to Vartanian, Ter-Petrosian is the only Armenian politician feared by Kocharian. "Ter-Petrosian's authority abroad is so great that he can be certain that international monitors will carry out an objective and effective oversight [of the elections]," he says.
"Hayots Ashkhar" predicts that most opposition candidates will pull out of the race two or three days before the voting in support of more popular hopefuls such as Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian. But the paper believes that the two leaders will not pick many more votes as a result of that because none of them can offer a viable alternative to Kocharian.
"Orran" asks Armenian parliamentarians about foreign influence on the country and presents differing opinions. Hayk Babukhanian of the opposition Right and Accord parliamentary bloc claims that foreign powers and some international organizations sometimes wield more influence than the authorities. "Armenia's external debt is about $1 billion or twice as big as our budget. This is a telling criterion," agrees Victor Dallakian. "Economic influence may also have political implications." Deputy speaker Gagik Aslanian, however, does not see serious external influence "in the political sense." "Today some politicians claim that the West or the North (Russia) affect our political life. I reject that opinion and find it offensive to express such thoughts," he says.