By Hrach Melkumian
Stepan Demirchian, Armenia’s most popular opposition leader, reaffirmed his uncompromising stand against the “illegitimate” regime of President Robert Kocharian on Friday, pledging to continue to fight for its ouster.
“Power has been usurped in Armenia, and formation of a legitimate government remains our primary goal,” Demirchian declared, opening a conference of his People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), the linchpin of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance. “We will achieve it,” he said, underlining the continuing opposition outcry over serious fraud reported in this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
Demirchian, who was Kocharian’s main election challenger, and his opposition allies claim to have won both votes, accusing the authorities of falsifying them. They point to Western observers’ conclusion that the elections fell short of democratic standards. Kocharian and his loyal parties admit that there were numerous vote irregularities, but maintain that those were not serious enough to call into question the incumbent’s reelection.
Demirchian sought to keep alive memories of the dramatic electoral battles, assuring his most ardent loyalists that the fact that Artarutyun has concentrated on legislative work in recent months does not mean it accepts the status quo. “This doesn’t mean that we have come to terms with the existence of this regime and are legitimizing it,” he said.
The opposition, he continued, will continue to fight, both “inside and outside parliament,” for the holding of a “referendum of confidence” in Kocharian which was suggested by Armenia’s Constitutional Court last April. However, he was vague about practical details of the effort.
The current Armenian parliament is dominated by Kocharian supporters who strongly reject such a referendum. They are even less likely to vote for it now that Constitutional Court chairman Gagik Harutiunian says the idea is no longer urgent.
Artarutyun hope to put pressure on the parliament majority with a fresh campaign of street protests. The first such rally is scheduled for October 17. The campaign will be called off if the organizers fail to attract a large crowd.
The opposition also hopes to galvanize its supporters into action by exploiting the planned increase in the prices of electricity, drinking water and natural gas. The price hikes, due to take effect next January, could hit hard the already modest family budgets across the country.
Demirchian mentioned the highly unpopular measures in his speech, saying that they are the result of a “wrong economic policy” and “dubious” energy deals cut by the Kocharian administration. The remarks appeared to be a veiled attack on the recent handover of the Metsamor nuclear power station and Armenia’s largest thermal power plant to Russia’s Unified Energy Systems utility.