“Haykakan Zhamanak” casts doubt on the sincerity of President Kocharian’s stated willingness to help the opposition field a joint presidential candidate, suggesting that it is a simple pre-election trick. But the paper notes with bewilderment that Kocharian on Tuesday spoke enthusiastically about opposition unification.
“Aravot” comments that Kocharian may have been right when he said that the existence of numerous opposition candidates could prevent him from winning an outright majority in the first round of voting. This may indeed split both the opposition and pro-Kocharian electorates. “Ahead of the second round, Kocharian will be forced to agree not just with one but several candidates in order to get their votes. The negotiations would create a headache and could cost him very dearly. It’s much easier to deal with one challenger whom you might choose beforehand.” In this regard, the paper says, Kocharian would prefer to face the HZhK’s Stepan Demirchian. “He is a soft, inoffensive guy. He would easily agree to [accept], say, the post of the National Assembly speaker. So we would advise Kocharian to name Demirchian as his main election rival and the joint candidate of 16 [parties].”
Another opposition leader, Vazgen Manukian, tells “Aravot” that the division of the 16-party coalition into two separate alliances is “very likely.” “I don’t see any tragedy in that,” he says. Manukian reiterates his skepticism about the 16 parties’ ability to come up with a joint program and presidential candidate. Manukian also says he still has trouble understanding the “political orientation and philosophy” of Artashes Geghamian. The latter’s newly publicized political platform gives him few hints.
An HZhK lawmaker, Grigor Harutiunian, snipes at Geghamian in “Orran” for saying that his National Accord party has a credible program. “There is no party without a program,” Harutiunian says. “As far as the HZhK is concerned, it is based on Karen Demirchian’s 1998 election platform.” The parliament deputy adds that Geghamian’s decision to quit the opposition grouping would not necessarily ruin it.
“Haykakan Zhamanak” carries results of a new opinion poll commissioned by the opposition Hanrapetutyun party. They show that if presidential elections were held this week, Kocharian would garner 21 percent of the vote and Demirchian 17 percent. He is followed by Geghamian who has 10 percent. More than a third of the respondents were undecided. The paper believes that most of those Armenians who plan to vote for Kocharian are in fact not particularly happy with him. They just do not see an alternative to Kocharian because of the continuing turmoil and uncertainty in the opposition ranks. According to the same poll, 23 percent of respondents said they want Demirchian to be the joint opposition candidate. He is followed by Geghamian, Raffi Hovannisian, Vazgen Manukian and Aram Sarkisian.
“Haykakan Zhamanak” concludes that Kocharian may be leading in the polls, but 21 percent is nowhere near enough for his reelection. The paper claims that his predecessor, Levon Ter-Petrosian, had a 40 percent approval rating in the run-up to the troubled presidential election of September 1996.
And according to “Orran,” there is no reason to assert that Ter-Petrosian can not make a similarly strong showing this time around. “In 1988, the people labeled Karen Demirchian a traitor only to ask him to return in 1998. Levon Ter-Petrosian’s comeback will be similar to Karen Demirchian’s comeback in many respects,” the paper writes, adding that the time has come for Ter-Petrosian to “speak up and make a final decision.” “One should not rule out the possibility of his being the joint opposition candidate.” Even Geghamian might agree to endorse the ex-president. The paper says Ter-Petrosian would also stand a good chance of securing the backing of major foreign powers.