By Armen Zakarian
Stepan Demirchian and other leaders of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance launched their month-long election campaign Tuesday, visiting rural areas in the central Aragatsotn province and urging their residents to help them win a majority in the next Armenian parliament.
“The Artarutyun alliance is not fighting for a few parliament seats,” Demirchian declared at a rally in the local town of Talin. “We are fighting to win a majority in the National Assembly and to bring about changes.”
The opposition leader, still fresh from his dramatic showdown with President Robert Kocharian in last month’s presidential election, said he is “not naïve” to think that there will be no violations during the May 25 polls. But he said the opposition views them as an opportunity for regime change in Armenia.
“We are not talking about [electing] a good or bad king; a good or bad party,” said Vazgen Manukian, one of Demirchian’s top opposition allies. “We are talking about the very existence our nation and state. Are we going to move forward or collapse? This is the key question.”
The remarks reflected lingering opposition fury with the Armenian authorities’ handling of the presidential election marred by allegations of vote rigging. Artarutyun leaders insist that Demirchian was the rightful winner of the ballot. The most outspoken of them, Aram Sarkisian, claimed that the Constitutional Court challenged the legitimacy of Kocharian’s reelection last week when it called for a post-election “referendum of confidence” in Armenia.
“Given the existing conditions Armenia is in, it would not be realistic to expect more from the Constitutional Court,” Sarkisian said, mentioning the court’s refusal to accept Demirchian’s demands for the annulment of the election results.
The Artarutyun leaders also urged the locals to vote against sweeping amendments to Armenia’s constitution in a referendum also scheduled for May 25.
Demirchian’s first campaign trip attracted less public enthusiasm than his successful presidential campaign last winter when he was mobbed by large crowds across the country. Still, he was again greeted with music and saw villagers slaughter sheep in his honor. His aides said the Artarutyun campaign will quickly gain momentum over the next week.