By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Karine Kalantarian
Raffi Hovannisian, a former foreign minister and popular opposition figure, was formally disqualified from the presidential race Wednesday on the grounds that he has not been an Armenian citizen for the past ten years. The Central Election Commission (CEC) registered instead 11 other candidates, including President Robert Kocharian, for next month’s presidential elections.
The CEC secretary, Anna Aleksanian, argued, predictably, that Hovannisian’s ten-year citizenship -- a key registration requirement -- was not certified by Armenia’s immigration authority. Aleksanian said an interior ministry document submitted by the candidate’s proxies shows that he was granted Armenian citizenship in 2001.
Hovannisian, who was born in the United States and had a U.S. passport until April 2001, challenged the document in a Yerevan court, demanding that his citizenship be backdated to 1991. However, his lawsuit was rejected by the court. The higher Review Court is due to hear on Friday an appeal filed by his lawyers.
Hovannisian’s spokesman, Ashot Aghababian, denounced the CEC’s widely anticipated decision, saying that it was ordered by Kocharian. He again claimed that the incumbent fears a strong election challenger.
The decision was backed by seven out of nine members of the CEC. The two other members affiliated with opposition parties did not vote in protest.
The CEC chairman, Artak Sahradian, said the electoral body acted in accordance with Armenia’s constitution and laws -- a claim challenged by opposition parties which again raised questions about Kocharian’s own eligibility to contest the elections. A 16-party opposition coalition will issue a statement on Thursday accusing the CEC of using double standards in the registration process.
The opposition maintains that Kocharian, who was the president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic until 1997, has not lived in Armenia and has not been an Armenian national in the last ten years. A spokesman for the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, Suren Sureniants, argued that Kocharian obtained an Armenian passport only in 1998.
“According to the law on Armenia’s administrative-territorial division, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is not considered a part of Armenia,” Sureniants said.
However, Kocharian’s ten-year citizenship was certified by the immigration department of the Armenian police. Sahradian argued that the CEC is not empowered to challenge decisions of competent government agencies.
Virtually all of the ten other candidates registered by the CEC are in opposition to Kocharian. Sources told RFE/RL that two of them, Vladimir Darpinian of the Communist Party (HKK) and Garnik Markarian of the Socialist Armenia bloc, will pull out of the race in support of one of the most popular opposition leaders, Artashes Geghamian. The latter did not deny the information.
The three men and their political organizations have recently formed a left-wing electoral alliance which stands for closer ties with Russia.