By Armen Zakarian and Harry Tamrazian in Yerevan
The leader of the opposition HZhk party and one of the possible
presidential hopefuls for the 2003 presidential elections, Stepan Demirchian said that his surprise visit to Moscow last week had nothing to do with the Russian-Armenian equities-for-debt deal. Mr. Demirchian, the son of the former speaker of Parliament Karen Demirchian, killed during the parliamentary attack on October 27, 1999, is the director of the "Mars" factory, which Armenia agreed to hand over to Russia as part of the equities-for-debt deal. Demirchian's visit to Moscow coincided with the signing of the deal leading to speculation that the opposition leader wants to cut a deal with the Russians on his future as CEO of "Mars".
He declined to reveal the details of his visit to Moscow, but said that the debt-for-equities deal was wrong and there is no reason to describe it as a successful business deal. The deal could be viewed as
successful only if we see that the factories in question are working. "But we don't see the guarantees that they would work, Demirchian said. According to the opposition leader it was not normal to cover debts by major assets. The right way of doing that would be to set up joint ventures between Russian and Armenian companies, Demirchian said.
"HZhK", often called Demirchan's party, was set up by Demirchian senior, the former first secretary of Soviet Armenian Communist Party. After a successful election campaign 'HZhK' formed a ruling coalition with the Republican Party in the Armenian Parliament in 1999. The party is still formally a member of the "Miasnutyun" ruling
faction, but its leaders and the outspoken members in parliament are
in a bitter opposition to the government and President Kocharian. The
trial of the "October 27" perpetrators is a major dividing line between Republican party and HZhK.
Some supporters of Stepan Demirchian have hinted at Kocharian's possible involvement in the Parliamentary attack in 1999. Stepan Demirchian's 'HZhK' has also joined 13 anti-Kochairain opposition parties, who want to challenge Kocharian in the upcoming presidential elections.
However, the delay in naming a presidential candidate and announcing a joint platform for next year's presidential elections lead to speculations that there are serious disagreements among the leaders of the 13 opposition parties. Stepan Demirchian harshly criticized the Minister of Transportation and communication, Andranik Manoukian who told RFE/RL last week, that the 'HZhK' leader in fact is not serious about the prospect of future cooperation with 13 opposition parties who want to unseat President Robert Kocharian. "I just don't understand, why the Minister of Transportation and Communication thinks that he has a right to express opinions on my behalf? The cooperation of the 13 opposition parties continues...it is still not a
coalition and we will have to further consolidate our forces", Stepan
The Armenian Communist Party indicated last week, that it may also join forces with some opposition parties, including Stepan Demirchian's HZhK. Asked whether 'HZhK' would accept cooperation with Communists in the upcoming presidential elections, Stepan Demirchian said that he doesn't exclude cooperation with any opposition party. "The cooperation among the 13 opposition parties, doesn't mean that there could be no other cooperation", the opposition leader said, adding that his party is free to cooperate with other parties outside the framework of the 13 opposition parties.
The opposition leader said that it is too early to talk about a single opposition candidate and formation of election blocks. However, Stepan Demirchian believes that voters need a single opposition presidential candidate and the opposition should come up with one. "But no matter, whether the opposition will announce a single candidate or not, the current regime is doomed to fail", the leader of'HZhK' told RFE/RL.