By Hrach Melkumian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
Three leading left-wing opposition parties formalized on Monday the creation of an electoral alliance which is expected to endorse the presidential bid of one of Armenia’s most popular politicians: Artashes Geghamian. Their leaders claimed that the move does not mark the collapse of a broader opposition coalition of which they are members.
The new, staunchly pro-Russian “popular-patriotic bloc” comprises Geghamian’s National Unity, the Armenian Communist Party (HKK) and the Socialist Armenia union of five small parties. Although its leaders said an agreement on their single presidential candidate will not be announced before January 15, some political observers view Geghamian’s joint nomination as a forgone conclusion.
But Geghamian said he is ready to quit the race if his partners decide to rally around another opposition leader, including Stepan Demirchian who, according to most opinion polls, is the second most popular candidate after President Robert Kocharian. HKK first secretary Vladimir Darpinian and Socialist Armenia’s Garnik Markarian have also been nominated for the February 19 elections by their respective organizations.
Darpinian again denied reports that his unilateral decision to team up with Geghamian provoked discontent among some senior Communists. The party’s number two figure, Sanatruk Sahakian, has openly spoken out against that. But Darpinian played down the criticism, saying that Sahakian and his supporters only want the Communists to have their own candidate contest the vote.
Markarian assured reporters that the 16-party opposition grouping continues to operate and may still reach a compromise deal on a single candidate capable of defeating Kocharian. “We will solve the issue of a single candidate and a government of national unity within the framework of the 16 [parties],” he said.
Geghamian, for his part, repeated his strong verbal attacks on the incumbent president, predicting his imminent defeat in the elections. “Mr. Kocharian has exhausted himself,” he claimed at a joint news conference of the left-wing troika. “Neither [Defense Minister] Serzh Sarkisian nor the heads of other punitive bodies can help him out. We have the necessary power to force them to obey the popular will.”
The new opposition alliance stands for closer ties with Russia and Armenia’s accession to the Russia-Belarus union. It also backs the idea of a Russian-led currency union comprising former Soviet republics.
Meanwhile, other opposition leaders confirmed reports that they considered forming their own electoral alliance grouped around Demirchian after National Unity, the HKK and Socialist Armenia joined forces last month. One of them, Aram Sarkisian, said his Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party opposed the idea because it could split the opposition into two rival camps.
“I am against such a competition and find such an approach not realistic,” Sarkisian told RFE/RL. He also claimed that Geghamian’s actions so far do not threaten opposition unity. “I am not inclined to see this new alliance in a negative light,” he said.
(Fotolur photo: Markarian, left, Darpinian, center, and Geghamian)