By Karine Kalantarian
The nomination of a single presidential candidate by Armenia’s main opposition parties seemed even less likely on Friday as one of their most popular leaders, Vazgen Manukian, ruled out his withdrawal from the race in favor of any other opposition contender.
Manukian is one of five leaders of a 16-party opposition coalition who have filed for registration with the Central Election Commission as candidates in the February 19 presidential elections. Another opposition heavyweight, Communist Party first secretary Vladimir Darpinian, is likely to follow the suit.
The 16 parties, including Manukian’s National Democratic Union (AZhM), pledged to try to put forward a common challenger against President Robert Kocharian when they joined forces in August. However, the grouping has proved largely ineffectual, hamstrung by internal bickering and conflicting ambitions of their leaders.
Speaking to reporters, Manukian said no other opposition hopeful deserves his support and dismissed the 16-part union as a mere “consultative body” that lacks the unity to mount a concerted challenge against Kocharian. “The likelihood of that is very small,” he said.
Another prominent opposition figure, Shavarsh Kocharian of the National Democratic Party, is likewise skeptical about opposition unity in the run-up to the elections. In an interview with RFE/RL on Thursday, he warned that the opposition parties will be roundly defeated unless they put aside their differences.
“I am a pessimist. If things continue like this, Robert Kocharian will, sadly, have the best chances of victory,” he said.
The opposition is expected to split into several camps ahead of the elections. One such alliance comprising the Communists, the National Unity party and Socialist Armenia bloc is now taking shape. National Unity’s Artashes Geghamian’s is seen as its most likely candidate.
However, Socialist Armenia has already fielded its candidate, Garnik Markarian, and the Communists say they will do so in the coming days. But Markarian claimed on Friday that the left-wing “popular-patriotic alliance” will soon reach an agreement. “There is going to be a single candidate. It’s just a matter of time,” he told RFE/RL.