By Emil Danielyan
Former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian and his supporters formed on Tuesday a political organization which they hope will give him the muscle to become a key player in Armenian politics.
The new “movement” named Zharangutyun (Heritage) is expected to throw its weight behind one of the opposition candidates in next month’s presidential elections. Hovannisian, who was controversially barred from running for president, claimed that the endorsement will have a “decisive” impact on the outcome of the vote.
“The nation needs a political force of a new quality. We are able to return to the people what they have lost in the last ten years,” he said in a speech at a conference hall packed with hundreds of supporters.
Speaking to journalists afterwards, Hovannisian said Zharangutyun will decide within a week whether it should register as a political party or have the status of a civic organization that can not contest parliamentary elections. He said the group will also decide which presidential candidate deserves its support.
Although Hovannisian again refused to give any possible names, he is widely expected to team up with Stepan Demirchian or the Hanrapetutyun party leader Aram Sarkisian.
Opinion polls put the U.S.-born former foreign minister among the most popular opposition leaders capable of mounting a strong challenge against President Robert Kocharian. However, the Central Election Commission has refused to register him as a candidate on the grounds that he has not been an Armenian citizen for the past ten years as is required by the country’s constitution.
Hovannisian, who had served as foreign minister in 1992 while holding a U.S. passport, was granted Armenian citizenship in April 2001. But he argues that he should be considered to have been an Armenian national since 1991 because the authorities for years illegally ignored his passport applications.
Hovannisian supporters believe that he was disqualified from the race because Kocharian did not want to face another major challenger. “We do not live in a rule-of-law country where courts are not dependent on the government,” said Vartan Poghosian, one of the lawyers who unsuccessfully made Hovannisian’s case in Armenian courts this month.