More than one hundred activists led by Arshak Sadoyan, an outspoken member of the Armenian parliament, formalized on Saturday their split from the National Democratic Union (AZhM), meeting for the first congress of their new opposition party.
The rift, announced a month ago, dealt another blow to the support base of former prime minister Vazgen Manukian which had already suffered a major split last February after months of turmoil. Sadoyan says he is setting up a political organization of his own to protest against the AZhM's readiness to cooperate with the authorities. The other splinter group, the National Democratic Party (AZhK), cited similar motives when it chose to quit Manukian's party.
The new group called the Alliance of National Democrats (AZhD) declared at the end of its founding congress that bringing about a "radical change of the government system" in Armenia will be among its main aim. Sadoyan, known for a harsh anti-government rhetoric that has earned him big popularity, told reporters that he and his supporters will campaign for the enactment of constitutional amendments before the next presidential and parliamentary elections in 2003.
The AZhD and many other Armenian parties believe that the current Armenian constitution enacted in 1995 gives the president of the republic excessive powers and does not provide for adequate checks and balances against the presidential authority.
Also present at the gathering were AZhK leader Shavarsh Kocharian and
Minister for State Property David Vartanian -- two prominent politicians whose conflicting views on how to deal with the authorities were instrumental in the AZhM split. Kocharian and his supporters quit the center-right party after their defeat at the AZhM congress last February at the hands of Vartanian allies.
The three organizations that once made up Armenia's strongest opposition force still share the same office building in Yerevan.