By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s leading opposition parties on Saturday again fudged the issue of their possible single candidate in the upcoming presidential elections.
Leaders of the 16-party opposition grouping said they avoided discussions of specific candidacies for that role, focusing instead on ways of ensuring that the February 19 vote is free and fair.
The meeting was attended by eight opposition politicians already nominated for the Armenian presidency. Among them were heavyweights like Stepan Demirchian, Vazgen Manukian and Artashes Geghamian. All three men are unlikely to withdraw from the race in support of each other.
Manukian said that “it is time to draw a serious conclusion” about the future of the loose opposition structure as little time is left before the elections. But he admitted that no decisions have been taken yet.
“We can no longer delay a decision,” said another opposition leader, Shavarsh Kocharian of the small National Democratic Party. He acknowledged that the 16 parties are unlikely agree on a single challenger against President Robert Kocharian, saying that they should at least minimize the number of opposition candidates in order to defeat the incumbent.
Three of the coalition members -- Geghamian’s National Unity party, the Communists and the Socialist Armenia alliance -- have already formed a tighter electoral bloc and pledged to put forward a joint candidate. The Socialist Armenia leader, Garnik Markarian, denied that the bloc has already decided to nominate Geghamian.
Demirchian, for his part, is seeking to rally other opposition forces around his candidacy. He also counts on the backing of Raffi Hovannisian, the popular former foreign minister who is expected to be disqualified from the race for not having a ten-year Armenian citizenship.
The opposition grouping said it will appeal next week to the Central Election Commission to challenge President Kocharian’s own eligibility for the Armenian presidency. It will argue that Kocharian has not lived in Armenia for the last ten years as is required by its constitution and electoral laws.
The 16 parties also agreed to issue a separate statement condemning the December 30 arrests of over a dozen Socialist Armenia activists. They were rounded up in connection with the official investigation into the December 28 murder of Tigran Naghdalian, chairman of the Armenian Public Television and Radio. None of the oppositionists was formally charged with involvement in the shooting, however.