By Shakeh Avoyan and Karine Kalantarian
Third-placed presidential candidate Artashes Geghamian on Monday again avoided throwing his weight behind opposition leader Stepan Demirchian, insisting that the first-round vote be annulled and re-run. He also claimed that a Demirchian victory in the March 5 run-off would endanger President Robert Kocharian’s life.
“We don’t want to participate in illegal processes. That is, in the second round,” Geghamian said in a short statement to a group of journalists. He again claimed that Kocharian did not garner more than 700,000 votes as was reported by the Central Election Commission.
With Geghamian refusing to answer any questions from reporters, it remained unclear whether his decision is final. His campaign manager, Aleksan Karapetian, did not rule out the possibility of a Demirchian endorsement. “In politics, no one can say things with 100 percent certainty,” Karapetian told RFE/RL.
According to preliminary results of the February 19 vote reported by the Central Election Commission, Geghamian trailed Kocharian and Demirchian with over 17 percent of the vote. His support could therefore tilt the balance in favor of one of the two finalists.
In remarks that will hardly please Demirchian, the leader of the National Unity party alleged that he was deliberately left off the second round by the authorities because Kocharian would face “inevitable defeat” in a one-on-one showdown with him. Geghamian, risking another controversy, said the authorities now regret that alleged decision because only he can guarantee their physical security in the event of a regime change.
“The current authorities realize that if the [Demirchian-led] opposition scores a victory it will be fraught with very severe consequences,” Geghamian claimed. “They know they would be shot…Only Artashes Geghamian can guarantee that there is no bloodshed in Armenia.”
Demirchian and his numerous opposition allies will likely deny and disapprove the speculation which would in turn deepen their rift with Geghamian. Some of them have long suspected him of secretly cooperating with the authorities.
“I share Mr. Geghamian’s view on mass irregularities,” said Aram Sarkisian of the pro-Demirchian Hanrapetutyun party. But both he and Demirchian’s campaign manager, Grigor Harutiunian, expressed their disappointment with Geghamian’s claim that the run-off vote amounts to an “inter-clan struggle.” Harutiunian called the remark “incomprehensible.”
“On this issue, Artashes Geghamian has gone too far, trying to carry too big a burden,” Sarkisian told RFE/RL. “I don’t like his reference to some bilateral clans. It’s too emotional.”
Some local observers argue that most Geghamian supporters are no less angry with the government and will not vote for Kocharian in the second round. Demirchian, who has not personally met with Geghamian since February 19, apparently hopes that most of them will vote for him anyway.
Meanwhile, Karapetian announced that the Geghamian campaign plans to take its case to the Constitutional Court after the announcement of the final vote results due on Tuesday.