By Emil Danielyan
Raffi Hovannisian, a prominent Armenian opposition politician, has unexpectedly bowed out of the unfolding parliamentary race, saying that he does not expect a clean vote after last month’s disputed presidential election.
“Unfortunately, the course of the two rounds of Armenia’s presidential election…cast doubt on the existence of democracy in our country and the freedom and fairness of the upcoming parliamentary elections,” read a joint statement issued by Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party and another opposition group on Monday.
The statement came the day after an electoral alliance named after Hovannisian withdrew its bid for registration with the Central Election Commission. It said the Armenian authorities have “neither the will not the capacity to hold transparent and honest elections.”
“Having accepted the decision not to take part in this public performance, I will instead be engaged in the building of our Heritage,” Hovannisian said in a separate statement.
Hovannisian, who had served as independent Armenia’s first foreign minister in 1992 while holding a U.S. passport, sided with opposition leader Stepan Demirchian in the recent presidential election and endorsed the latter’s claims that the vote was rigged by the authorities. However, he declined to join a broad-based Artarutyun (Justice) alliance formed by Demirchian last month, deciding instead to contest the May 25 polls on his own ticket.
A leading member of Artarutyun, Grigor Harutiunian, told RFE/RL that he “regrets” Hovannisian’s decision to pull out of the race. “But I am confident that we will cooperate with Raffi Hovannisian and his team during this period,” he added. “They are our allies.”
Despite lending his name to his now defunct bloc, Hovannisian avoided joining its list of candidates, apparently fearing that he will fail to meet eligibility requirements set by Armenia’s electoral legislation. According to them, only those individuals who have been Armenian nationals and lived in Armenia for the previous five years can run for parliament. The threshold for presidential candidates is ten years.
The popular ex-minister, who moved to Armenia from California in 1990, was granted Armenian citizenship by President Robert Kocharian only in 2001 -- the reason why the CEC refused to register him as a presidential candidate last January.