By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A Yerevan court opened on Wednesday hearings on an appeal by former foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian against a government decision that makes it virtually impossible for him to run in the February 19 presidential elections.
Hovannisian, who was born in the United States, is protesting the interior ministry’s refusal to certify that he has been an Armenian national for the past ten years -- a key requirement for the registration of presidential candidates.
Hovannisian was granted Armenian citizenship in August 2001, several months after surrendering his U.S. passport. He argues that his applications were “illegally” rejected by the current and former authorities and he should therefore be considered to have been an Armenian citizen since 1991.
But officials in the presidential administration claim that Hovannisian’s first formal application was filed only in 1997 and that he was always told to renounce his U.S. citizenship first. Armenia’s constitution prohibits dual citizenship.
The first court session saw the ex-minister’s lawyer make their case to the presiding judge. They were also cross-examined by President Robert Kocharian’s legal representative at the Central Election Commission (CEC), Artashes Kakosian. Kakosian will present his arguments at the next hearings due on Thursday.
Various opinion polls put Hovannisian among the most popular opposition leaders capable of defeating Kocharian in the elections. His supporters have already submitted about 40,000 voter signatures to the CEC needed for the registration. However, the absence of an appropriate citizenship document may make them irrelevant.
The CEC is to complete the registration process by January 20.