By Karine Kalantarian and Armen Zakarian
Stepan Demirchian’s credentials as the undisputed leader of the Armenian opposition were questioned on Thursday by another key member of his increasingly divided Artarutyun (Justice) alliance.
Vazgen Manukian, a veteran politician who heads the National Democratic Union (AZhM) party, said that none of the opposition leaders with an ambition to replace President Robert Kocharian meets his criteria for an effective head of state. He also complained that they lack a clear idea of what they would specifically do once in power.
“Different people in the alliance got different percentage points [during last year’s presidential election]…But there is no leader in the opposition who is able to rally people with ideas and not just win votes,” Manukian told RFE/RL, in an apparent reference to Demirchian’s strong electoral performance that contrasted with his extremely poor showing.
“They have neither political experience nor rousing ideas. Why should we hope that replacing one [president] with another would be good?” he said.
Manukian also argued that toppling Kocharian must not be the sole aim of his more popular opposition allies, complaining that they have so far failed to come up with “clear action programs.” “There is a lack of that now,” he said. “There needs to be a program guaranteeing internal policy changes in Armenia.”
Manukian and his AZhM are the second Artarutyun force to openly call into question Demirchian’s ability to spearhead a popular movement for regime change in the country. On Wednesday, the Hanrapetutyun party indicated that its leaders, former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian, might be a more “viable alternative to the regime.”
Manukian has conspicuously avoided any participation in the ongoing public gatherings held by Demirchian and other Artarutyun leaders across the country, while Hanrapetutyun held a separate rally in Yerevan on Saturday.
Meanwhile, a weekly meeting of Artarutyun’s ruling board was cancelled on Thursday for unknown reasons. Victor Dallakian, the number two figure in the bloc’s parliament faction, said it is not yet clear when the meeting will take place.
Dallakian claimed that the Demirchian-led meetings in various parts of the country, seen as a preparation for street protests in downtown Yerevan, are going according to plan and that the Armenian government is already “doomed.”
Represenatives of the governing coalition dismissed the speculation. “It’s a wishful thinking on the part of the opposition,” said Gagik Melikian of the governing Republican Party. “I haven’t yet seen any signs of panic among the coalition parties.”