By Karine Kalantarian and Armen Zakarian
Leaders of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, increasingly riven by internal differences, claimed on Monday to have reached common ground on their further actions but remained vague about details of the planned push for power.
Meeting at the weekend, the bloc’s ruling board decided to continue its ongoing “meetings with people” across Armenia. One of its members, Victor Dallakian, indicated that no decision was made on when Artarutyun should launch a promised “decisive” offensive against President Robert Kocharian.
“We are discussing dates in the alliance and we will inform the people and mass media about them,” Dallakian told RFE/RL. “We are consistent in implementing the people’s demand [for regime change].”
Another top oppositionist, Albert Bazeyan, also declined to elaborate on Artarutyun’s plan of actions. He said only that the bloc should “assess the political situation and the degree of public readiness” before rallying supporters in Yerevan.
The leader of Bazeyan’s Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, Aram Sarkisian, has already promised to unleash a campaign of anti-Kocharian street protests by the end of this month, exposing his tactical differences with Artarutyun’s more popular and cautious leader, Stepan Demirchian. Hanrapetutyun members said last week that Sarkisian might be better placed than Demirchian to spearhead that campaign.
Demirchian’s leadership is also challenged by another member of Artarutyun, the National Democratic Union (AZhM) party led by Vazgen Manukian. The latter complained last week that his opposition allies lack a clear idea of what they would do once in power. He also reiterated his belief that Kocharian must be replaced by an interim president who would serve for only two years.
Manukian’s proposals, which also called for cooperation with leading pro-presidential parties, were rejected by the Artarutyun board. “This approach is a bit unrealistic,” Bazeyan said. “We understand Mr. Manukian’s concerns, but we have a constitution which clearly states that the president of the Republic of Armenia is elected for a five-year term.”
“As a result of discussions, Vazgen Manukian agreed with our position that the main objective now is regime change,” Dallakian said for his part. He added that the alliance leaders agreed not to publicize individual proposals before discussing them on the board.
Manukian, meanwhile, said he will “reckon with decisions taken by others,” but insisted that the opposition must already clarify how it would govern the country. “We must always think about what will happen to this state in the end,” he told RFE/RL.
The board meeting on Saturday followed an Artarutyun rally in the town of Echmiadzin -- the latest in a series of gatherings held by the opposition mainly in areas outside the capital. Rally speakers addressed a crowd of several hundred people to a backdrop of fire-cracker explosions set off by a group of local youths in an apparent bid to disrupt the rally. The organizers largely ignored what they described as “hooliganism.”
In his speech Demirchian repeated opposition demands for a referendum of confidence in Kocharian. “A referendum of confidence gives this regime a good chance to solve the issue of their legitimacy in a civilized and calm way,” he said. “If they don’t take it, they will quit anyway, we will force them to quit.”