By Artem Chernamorian in Gyumri
Vazgen Manukian, a prominent Armenian opposition politician, said Friday that he is "inclined" to stand in next year's presidential elections, but did not rule out the possibility of endorsing another candidate put forward by leading opposition parties.
Manukian said conditions are not ripe now for the diverse Armenian opposition to agree on a joint candidate who would face the incumbent President Robert Kocharian in the vote scheduled for next March. "There is a lot of talk about it," he told reporters in the northern city of Gyumri. "But conditions are not ripe yet for us to come up with a single candidate."
Manukian's National Democratic Union (AZhM) is a member of the loose 13-party opposition alliance formed in April following the closure of Armenia's main independent television station. Its leaders have vowed to thwart Kocharian's reelection by fielding a single opposition contender. But they have so far avoided discussions on who should take on that role. Manukian, who was Armenia's first non-Communist prime minister from 1990-91, is seen as one of the possible candidates.
Aram Sarkisian, a leader of the Hanrapetutyun party, was quoted by a Yerevan newspaper on Friday as saying that the opposition alliance will unveil its candidate no sooner than 20 days before the elections. He said that will be done for tactical reasons.
According to Manukian, leaders of the parties making up the anti-Kocharian coalition might formally register their candidacies before dropping out of the race in favor of one of them. But in a remark that highlighted persisting policy differences inside the opposition camp, he added that they "should not throw so much mud at each other to make unity impossible."
The AZhM leader already acted as the joint opposition candidate during the September 1996 elections marred with massive irregularities. Official figures showed that he was narrowly defeated by the incumbent president, Levon Ter-Petrosian -- an outcome that has never been accepted by the opposition. International monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also challenged the election results.
Some of Ter-Petrosian's close associates admitted afterwards that the vote was falsified.