By Hrach Melkumian and Armen Zakarian
A former Armenian prime minister, Aram Sarkisian, joined on Tuesday the ranks of opposition leaders intending to take on President Robert Kocharian in next February’s presidential elections.
Sarkisian, who was nominated by his Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, reaffirmed his commitment to opposition unity, but sent mixed signals about his readiness to withdraw from the race in favor of another top contender.
“These elections are going to be fateful for me. I will go to the end,” he declared in an acceptance speech at the party’s pre-election convention.
“I am obliged to finish the incomplete job of my older brother,” he added, referring to Vazgen Sarkisian, his charismatic predecessor assassinated in the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament.
The parliament killings were a major theme of congressional speeches, with Hanrapetutyun leaders again holding Kocharian responsible for the massacre. “The October 27 [case] will weigh heavily on Robert Kocharian’s conscience till the end of his life,” Sarkisian charged.
The centrist party’s chairman Albert Bazeyan, for his part, accused the president of “usurping power” during a bitter government infighting that followed the 1999 shootings and resulted in Aram Sarkisian’s sacking in May 2000. He said: “The president of the republic is not performing his constitutional duties. On the contrary, he has taken unconstitutional steps.”
The former premier’s nomination was a further indication of the Armenian opposition’s inability to put forward a single candidate against the incumbent, something which many observers believe would seriously threaten his reelection plans. An influential leader of one of the 16 opposition parties making up a loose pre-election alliance told RFE/RL that they have all but lost hope in such a possibility.
The leader, who asked not to be identified, said they now hope that an opposition agreement will become possible in the event of a run-off vote that would pit Kocharian against one of the opposition contenders. He also said that the 16 parties will continue to coordinate their efforts aimed at ensuring the proper conduct of the February 19 vote.
Three of those parties -- National Unity, the Communist Party and Socialist Armenia -- have already announced plans to form a separate, much closer electoral alliance that will field a joint presidential candidate: most probably Artashes Geghamian.
According to another opposition leader, Shavarsh Kocharian, the other members of the 16-party coalition must now agree on their own candidate. Kocharian’s National Democratic Party has close ties with Hanrapetutyun and the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) led by Stepan Demirchian.
Sarkisian on Tuesday did not rule out the possibility of Hanrapetutyun teaming up with the HZhK, saying that such an alliance can be sealed “within 20 minutes.” But he would not say whether he is prepared to endorse the more popular Demirchian.