By Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
Stepan Demirchian, the leader of the opposition People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), secured on Monday another important endorsement of his presidential bid from Raffi Hovannisian, the U.S.-born popular politician barred from contesting the February 19 elections.
President Robert Kocharian’s political allies, meanwhile, argued that the Armenian opposition’s failure to nominate a single candidate shows that there is no credible alternative to the incumbent.
Hovannisian urged his numerous supporters unhappy with the current authorities to vote for Demirchian. “Stepan Demirchian is a statesman whose balanced, prudent and dignified steps may lay the foundations of a modern public order,” he said in a brief statement.
The endorsement is a welcome news for Demirchian just as he is solidifying his position of the most popular opposition candidate. The HZhK won the backing of another opposition candidate, former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian, on Saturday. Sarkisian said he is leaving the race to increase the likelihood of Kocharian’s defeat. He was on Monday campaigning with Demirchian in the southeastern Syunik province.
Hovannisian was seen as a potentially strong candidate before the Central Election Commission (CEC) disqualified him from the campaign on the grounds that he has not been an Armenian citizen for the past ten years as is required by Armenia’s constitution.
The CEC on Monday approved the final list of nine candidates that will contest next week’s ballot. Apart from Demirchian, it comprises three major opposition contenders: Artashes Geghamian, Aram Karapetian and Vazgen Manukian. None of them has agreed to follow Sarkisian’s example and drop out of the race, ending months of speculation about the nomination of a single opposition contender.
Political parties supporting Kocharian seized upon this fact to accuse the opposition of breaking its pledges of unity and to make the point that it can not be trusted by Armenians. “It has become obvious to everyone that the idea of a single candidate trumpeted by the opposition for months is just a fiction,” Tigran Torosian, a leader of the governing Republican Party (HHK), said in a speech at a Kocharian rally in central Yerevan.
A representative of another pro-Kocharian party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), likewise claimed that the opposition leaders can not agree on any major issue.
Kocharian, for his part, made no mention of the issue as he addressed thousands of supporters carrying slogans, posters and flags.