By Shakeh Avoyan
Campaigning for the upcoming election in Yerevan’s central administrative district, run by a staunch government loyalist, has laid bare lingering differences and mutual antagonisms among Armenian opposition leaders.
Sunday’s vote in the Kentron district promises to be the most politicized of the ongoing elections of local government bodies across Armenia. Kentron is the only community where the opposition has fielded a major candidate: Ruzan Khachatrian of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK).
Khachatrian has also been endorsed by eight other opposition parties making up the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance as well as the second opposition group represented in parliament, the National Unity Party (AMK). But there has so far been no evidence of their involvement in her largely invisible campaign.
Khachatrian singled out the AMK for blame on Tuesday, saying that she is finding virtually no support from members of Kentron election commissions affiliated with that party. “The first meetings of the commissions demonstrated that our representatives there are alone,” she told RFE/RL.
HZhK circles allege in particular that the AMK’s outspoken leader, Artashes Geghamian, has ceded commission seats reserved for his party to representatives of Gagik Beglarian, the incumbent Kentron prefect who is close to President Robert Kocharian. The absence of high-profile opposition actions is clearly facilitating his reelection.
But Geghamian denied any secret collaboration with Beglarian. “You know, there are a dozen quite authoritative parties in the Artarutyun alliance and in my view there is no need for our backing,” he told RFE/RL.
Geghamian insisted that his party is supporting the HZhK candidate but would not specify how. “National Unity has stated that any opposition force taking party in local elections will enjoy our backing in the sense that we will do our best to ensure free, fair and democratic elections,” he said.
The AMK leader at the same time played down the political significance of the local elections, saying that the opposition should not “waste energy” on them. A similar point was made by Aram Sarkisian, the leader of Hanrapetutyun, the most radical of the Artarutyun parties. Even the HZhK leader Stepan Demirchian seems to be lacking interest in the Kentron race.
“I am not concerned with having a candidate in a single constituency and campaigning for their victory,” said Sarkisian. “Free elections are impossible under this regime and Robert Kocharian in particular.”
Both Geghamian and Sarkisian insisted that for all their differences the country’s leading opposition parties share a common goal: regime change. They said the opposition will step up its activities after the official start of campaigning for the November constitutional referendum. “You will see and be surprised with opposition activity next month,” promised the Hanrapetutyun leader.
Still, both men, who rarely speak to one another, openly laid claim to a dominant role in what Geghamian described as a “popular revolt which is already brewing underground.”
(Photolur photo: Gagik Beglarian.)