By Karine Kalantarian
A Yerevan court rejected on Thursday opposition demands to disqualify President Robert Kocharian from the presidential race, ruling that he has been an Armenian citizen for the last ten years and is therefore eligible to contest next week’s elections.
In a widely anticipated ruling, the judge hearing the case described as “baseless” a lawsuit brought by six opposition candidates who believe that Kocharian’s participation in the February 19 vote violates Armenia’s constitution.
The opposition leaders had asked the court to annul a police document certifying Kocharian’s ten-year citizenship and residency in Armenia -- a key legal requirement for the registration of presidential candidates. They argue that Kocharian lived in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is not an internationally recognized part of Armenia, until 1997 and obtained an Armenian passport only afterwards.
However, the interior ministry’s immigration department bases its document on a December 1989 decision by Soviet Armenia’s parliament to incorporate Karabakh into the republic. The court found the argument convincing.
However, opposition representatives countered that if the authorities still consider the 1989 act valid, they should have opened polling stations in Karabakh and enabled its residents to vote in the February 19 elections. They also argue that there are no official records showing when Kocharian applied for Armenian citizenship and was granted one.
Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) had earlier rejected the opposition candidates’ case against Kocharian’s eligibility and few expected the presiding judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, to hand down a different verdict. The lawsuit is thus seen as part of opposition attempts to embarrass Kocharian and cast doubt on his stated commitment to the rule of law.
The opposition is also using the issue to accuse the authorities of double standards in the registration of presidential candidates. It points to the CEC’s refusal to register Raffi Hovannisian, the U.S.-born former foreign minister, on the grounds that he became an Armenian citizen only in 2001.