By Ruzanna Stepanian
Vazgen Manukian, a prominent Armenian politician, shrugged off on Monday fellow oppositionists’ latest pledge to stage a “revolution” in the country, saying that they can still not count on sufficient popular support. He also claimed that Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian stands no chance of becoming Armenia’s next president.
“To say that one is going to carry out a revolution and actually carry out that revolution is impossible,” Manukian told RFE/RL in an interview.
“Popular discontent is great and it might seem that it bodes well for such a thing,” he said. “But popular discontent alone is not enough. There must also be faith in some serious force, a belief that that force will not only change regime but also the situation in the country. The people still lack that faith and it is difficult to arouse it.”
Manukian’s skepticism appeared primarily addressed to Armenia’s most radical opposition party, Hanrapetutyun (Republic). Its leader, Aram Sarkisian, claimed on Friday that regime change through a popular revolt is only a matter of time and urged Armenians to topple President Robert Kocharian.
Such calls have also been made by leaders of other parties making up the opposition Artarutyun bloc. They say the opposition is now waiting for the “right moment” to make a new push for power.
“To say all of a sudden that ‘we are going to topple somebody and do a revolution tomorrow’ is not serious,” Manukian said. But he added that he thinks Kocharian will by no means be able to complete his second five-year term in 2008.
The Armenian opposition’s first attempt at revolution ended in failure last summer. Poor attendance of its anti-Kocharian rallies is regarded as the main reason for the fiasco.
Manukian, who served as Armenia’s first post-Communist prime minister in 1990-91, himself was close to ousting the government with street protests in September 1996 when thousands of his supporters stormed the parliament building in Yerevan in the wake of a reputedly rigged presidential election. His and his National Democratic Union (AZhM) party’s popularity has since steadily declined.
Although the AZhM is formally affiliated with Artarutyun its influence on the bloc’s activities has been marginal.
Manukian also pointed out that Armenia’s powerful defense chief, who is seen as Kocharian’s most likely successor, is too unpopular to be able to become president. “Making Serzh Sarkisian a president requires huge administrative resources, bribes, intimidation and vote falsifications [the consequences of which] can’t be digested by the authorities afterward,” he said.
“All of that may have been digested in 1996 and 2003 because we were ahead of most CIS countries [in terms of political reform]. But the opposite is the case now. We just can’t afford to be especially bad among them.”