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By Hrach Melkumian

The National Democratic Union (AZhM), a major Armenian opposition party, will seek to form an alliance with other parties to contest next year’s parliamentary elections, its chairman Vazgen Manukian announced on Thursday.

In a first indication of his pre-election plans, Manukian said it is “preferable” for the AZhM to run for the parliament in a bloc. He admitted that his party, weakened by a series of splits, will find it hard to become a key player in the political arena without gaining strong allies.

Manukian would not say who his potential allies are. But he ruled out the possibility of teaming up with the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), the former ruling party which is also looking to an electoral alliance.

Once the main opposition force in the country, the AZhM has seen its political clout diminish considerably since 1998 when Manukian fared much worse than expected in presidential elections. It has gone through two devastating rifts over the past year. One AZhM splinter group protested Manukian’s reluctance to cooperate with the authorities, while the other complained that his anti-government stand is too soft.

Manukian, who headed Armenia’s first non-Communist government in 1990-91, sought to end the perceived ambiguity of his political line, launching strong verbal attacks on the current authorities. He said the country’s future will be in doubt if they manage to cling to power after next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. “If after the 2003 elections the same individuals and groups stay on in power, Armenia will be doomed,” the former prime minister told a news conference.

Also, Manukian avoided an explicit answer to a question about his participation in the 2003 presidential ballot, saying only that he does not yet see political leaders who share fully share his vision of future Armenia and care capable of making it reality.
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