By Ruzanna Stepanian
Opposition leader Artashes Geghamian mounted on Thursday an emotional attack on President Robert Kocharian, challenging the latter to agree to a live televised debate with him on pressing issues facing Armenia.
“I have been asking you for an open debate on television for the last two years not to prove my personal superiority…but to get the country out of this situation,” Geghamian told several hundred young supporters in remarks addressed to Kocharian.
Kocharian has never debated publicly with the outspoken leader of the National Unity Party and is unlikely to accept his offers any time soon. Kocharian instead met another opposition leader, Stepan Demirchian, in March 2003, on the eve of the second round of the last presidential elections.
More than a month before that Geghamian had debated with Kocharian’s closest associate, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Most commentators concluded at the time that his harsh criticism of the authorities was more appealing to voters than Sarkisian’s defense of government policies. He claimed on Thursday to have “knocked down” the powerful minister.
Geghamian lashed out at Kocharian for his Wednesday remarks that Armenia is now immune to political crises because of its rapidly growing economy. He pointed to the country’s continuing high poverty rate and alleged that the authorities’ employment figures are a fraud. “A whole nation is leading a half-hungry life,” he screamed.
The opposition leader skirted the question of his possible participation in anti-Kocharian rallies planned by Demirchian’s Artarutyun (Justice) alliance for this spring.