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By Armen Zakarian
Close allies of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian have approached representatives of Armenia’s largest opposition grouping to see whether it will be prepared to endorse him for the February 19 presidential elections.

Informed sources have revealed to RFE/RL that the confidential contacts occurred this week after Ter-Petrosian told his top loyalists that he will not contest the ballot without the backing of at least some members of the 16-party opposition coalition.

The ex-president is said to have set that condition at a meeting earlier this month with leaders of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) and several other small parties supporting him. Details of the meeting, which lasted for several hours, are only now beginning to emerge.

According to one of its participants, Ter-Petrosian told his allies, “You all understand that we alone are unable to bring about a regime change. If my candidacy is backed by other political forces, I will be prepared to become actively involved in the electoral process. But it won’t make sense to join the race with only the HHSh and Ashot Bleyan’s and Vigen Khachatrian’s parties.”

The participant, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that after that meeting Ter-Petrosian’s entourage promptly contacted some of the opposition parties that joined forces in August to try to oust President Robert Kocharian.

As other sources told RFE/RL, none of them has agreed so far to throw its weight behind Ter-Petrosian’s possible presidential bid. They demanded that Ter-Petrosian first provide answers to several questions preoccupying them. Those include his position on the politically sensitive case of the October 1999 parliament shootings and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as the circumstances of his 1998 forced resignation and the severe energy crisis of 1992-1996, when Ter-Petrosian was in power.

The mainstream opposition also wants Ter-Petrosian to come clean about the disputed presidential elections of September 1996, official results of which are widely believed to have been falsified in Ter-Petrosian’s favor. His then challenger, Vazgen Manukian, is the leader of the National Democratic Union (AZhM). Political analysts believe that the AZhM and several other parties making up the opposition coalition will not endorse Ter-Petrosian whatever he promises them.

Of all 16 opposition parties, former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian’s Hanrapetutyun is seen as the most sympathetic to Ter-Petrosian and his HHSh. Sarkisian told RFE/RL on Wednesday that Hanrapetutyun will back the ex-president only if it concludes that he is popular enough to defeat Ter-Petrosian. “I don’t rule out anything,” he said.

Sources said that the results of the contacts with the so-called “Union of 16” will be communicated to Ter-Petrosian at another meeting to be held soon.

The HHSh deputy chairman, Andranik Hovakimian, on Saturday denied newspaper reports that Ter-Petrosian will announce a final decision regarding his participation in the presidential elections next week. He said the HHSh will hold a pre-election congress “in late November or early December” and nominate its candidate in any case.

The congress was initially scheduled for this week. Its postponement suggests that Ter-Petrosian has not yet made a final decision.

The deadline for the nomination of presidential candidates, set by the Central Election Commission, is December 6.
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