By Artem Chernamorian in Gyumri
In a move that may have set a precedent for next year's presidential and parliamentary elections, leading Armenian opposition groups agreed on Friday to put forward a single mayoral candidate in Gyumri, the country's second largest city.
Nine opposition parties said they will back the local leader of the National Accord party, Marzpetuni Markarian, in the October 20 election of Gyumri's mayor. Almost all of them are members of a loose 13-party opposition grouping that staged a series of anti-government rallies in Yerevan last spring.
The only major opposition organization that has so far refrained from joining the Gyumri coalition is the left-wing People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) led by Stepan Demirchian. The HZhK's local branch said it will soon formulate its position in a statement.
The opposition will be facing an uphill electoral battle against Vartan Ghukasian, the incumbent city mayor and a staunch loyalist of President Robert Kocharian. Ghukasian said on Friday that he will actively campaign for Kocharian's reelection regardless of the outcome of the mayoral race.
Ghukasian, who has no party affiliation, may also face a serious challenge from other influential pro-presidential parties. One of them, Orinats Yerkir, has already made public its intention to field a candidate in the Gyumri election.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party (HHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) could follow suit. The regional HHK leader, Mikael Vartanian, told RFE/RL that the Republicans have not yet decided whether to contest the vote.
Vartanian was Gyumri's mayor in the late 1990s and is reportedly seeking to regain the job.
The city's opposition leaders, meanwhile, made it clear that their agreement to close ranks behind a single candidate did not predetermine the formation of a nationwide alliance. The opposition has repeatedly expressed its intention to participate in the presidential election scheduled for next February with a single candidate. But it has not yet reached agreement on who should be given that role.
The Gyumri coalition could be the first step in that direction.