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By Ruzanna Khachatrian

Armenia’s main opposition parties are unlikely to agree on a single candidate for the February presidential elections despite their decision last week to form a united front against President Robert Kocharian, one of their prominent leaders, Vazgen Manukian, said on Monday.

“I believe that this is unlikely to result in a single [electoral] alliance, platform or candidate,” he told RFE/RL. “Those parties advocate differing ideologies and I don’t think that they will reach a compromise on a certain program.”

Manukian’s center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM) was one of 16 opposition parties that formed a loose pre-election coalition on Thursday after several days of intensive negotiation. In a joint declaration, they announced their intention to put forward a single presidential candidate and engage in other “joint activities” aimed at ousting Kocharian from power.

Opposition leaders said they will soon start discussing possible candidacies for the presidential ballot. Manukian, who had nearly succeeded in winning the Armenian presidency after receiving multi-party opposition support in the September 1996 elections, is seen as a potential single candidate.

However, there are other well-known, and perhaps more popular, leaders in the opposition camp who too are seeking that role. Artashes Geghamian, the outspoken leader of the National Accord party, is not the least ambitious of them. As recently as last June, Geghamian indicated that he will run for president even without the backing of other major opposition forces.

Also likely to stake his claim to the presidential office is Stepan Demirchian, chairman of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK). He is thought to be opposed to selecting Geghamian as the single candidate.

Manukian, whose popularity has declined in recent years, said cooperation among the leading opposition groups, though vital for Armenia’s democratization, must not be solely directed against Kocharian. “I don’t want to see an alliance whose main goal is to topple Kocharian,” he said, adding that the opposition should offer Armenians viable policy alternatives.
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