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By Ruzanna Khachatrian

Artashes Geghamian, an outspoken Armenian oppositionist, gave on Thursday more indications of his deepening rift with a recently formed coalition of leading opposition forces, saying that only he is well placed to be their joint candidate in next February’s presidential election.

Exposing his long-standing presidential ambitions, Geghamian implied that he and his National Accord party will go it alone, if the 15 other members of the grouping refuse to rally around his candidacy.

“If they come up with a better program and nominate a very competent person, I will definitely withdraw my candidacy [in his support],” he told a news conference. “But unfortunately I don’t see such a person today.”

Reaching agreement on a single presidential candidate capable of defeating President Robert Kocharian was a key declared goal of the loose opposition alliance formed earlier this month. Its leaders said they will soon start discussing concrete candidacies. Geghamian, who is one of the most popular opposition politicians, appears to have already staked his claim to that role.

He on Thursday signaled that he will not endorse anybody except himself for the February vote, a stance which his allies are finding too arrogant. Geghamian risked deepening their irritation when he said that only his National Accord has a “comprehensive anti-crisis program for Armenia” which can serve as a basis of a joint opposition plan of actions.

The claim was challenged by senior members of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), another major opposition force. “Each of the parties has its own program,” said one of them, Vartan Mkrtchian.

The HZhK’s popular chairman, Stepan Demirchian, is seen as another potential presidential candidate. Demirchian is reportedly against nominating Geghamian whom some opposition activists and media suspect of secretly cooperating with the authorities. Some pro-opposition newspapers have already accused him of deliberately wrecking the anti-Kocharian coalition, a charge he vehemently denies.

Geghamian said he will submit his program to the 15 parties for consideration this week and hopes to receive their “comments and suggestions” before the congress of his National Accord scheduled for September 28. He said: “I will obey any decision of the congress and will then again appeal to the 15 parties. Let them stand by me, if they want to.”

Most local observers expect that the gathering will rubber-stamp any decision to be suggested by Geghamian.
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