By Armen Zakarian
An Armenian opposition party signaled on Saturday its support for the presidential bid of Raffi Hovannisian, the U.S.-born former foreign minister.
The small National Democratic Party (AZhK) said it will endorse Hovannisian if Armenia’s leading opposition forces fail to agree on a single candidacy to challenge President Robert Kocharian in the February 19 elections.
In a declaration adopted at its pre-election conference, the AZhK at the same time made it clear that it sees another opposition leader, Stepan Demirchian, as the most acceptable joint presidential candidate. The center-right party led by a senior member of the Armenian parliament, Shavarsh Kocharian, said it will rally around the former foreign minister only if opposition efforts to form an electoral alliance collapse.
Hovannisian, who attended the conference, told RFE/RL: “I was surprised by this move. I have always supported and will support efforts to achieve opposition unity and put forward a joint candidate.” He said the situation will clear up “in the coming weeks.”
The AZhK and Demirchian’s People’s Party (HZhK) are members of a 16-party opposition grouping which has so far failed to put forward a single presidential candidate.
Hovannisian, who maintains close ties with the grouping, is fighting for his official registration as a presidential candidate amid serious questions about his eligibility to contest the presidential ballot. The former California-based lawyer was granted Armenian citizenship only last year and may not meet a constitutional provision that presidential hopefuls must have been Armenian nationals for the previous ten years.