By Armen Zakarian
Levon Ter-Petrosian, the former Armenian president, is inching towards a long-awaited decision to run as a candidate in the February 19 presidential elections, according to some members of his inner circles.
A longtime close Ter-Petrosian associate, who held a senior post in the Armenian leadership in the 1990s, claimed on Saturday that he has already decided to join the unfolding presidential race. Speaking to RFE/RL, the former official, who asked not to be identified, could not say when the reclusive ex-president will make public his political plans.
“I also can state that Levon Ter-Petrosian will put forward his candidacy,” said another member of his entourage, Yerjanik Abgarian.
A leading member of the Armat faction of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), Ara Sahakian, confirmed press reports that the ex-president discussed the matter with his closest allies earlier this week. He said such consultations are “constant and continuous.” “The public increasingly regards Levon Ter-Petrosian as a reasonable alternative to the current regime,” Sahakian told RFE/RL. “This means that he must correctly assess this phenomenon and react adequately.”
Ter-Petrosian, who has avoided contacts with the media since his resignation in February 1998, is expected to officially announce his decision before the pre-election congress of his HHSh. But the gathering, originally slated for November 15-16, has been postponed indefinitely, suggesting that Ter-Petrosian’s intentions will be clarified at the end of this month.
The deadline for the nomination of presidential candidates, set by the Central Election Commission on Friday, is December 6. Hopefuls must submit at least 40,000 supporting signatures by December 31 for official registration.
Sources said the HHSh will field a candidate even if Ter-Petrosian refuses to contest the polls. Among its potential nominees are former parliament speaker Babken Ararktsian, former national security minister David Shahnazarian and even the fugitive former interior minister Vano Siradeghian.
The 57-year-old ex-president’s participation in the elections would rekindle debate on what concessions the Armenian side should make to Azerbaijan for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Ter-Petrosian was forced to quit by his key ministers after advocating a softer line on the dispute and maintaining that Armenia’s quick economic recovery is impossible without its peaceful settlement. Last week, his allies reprinted Ter-Petrosian’s famous 1997 article on Karabakh, saying that the past five years have vindicated him.