By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Aram Sarkisian, the leader of Armenia’s most radical opposition party, said on Thursday that he still hopes to force pre-term parliamentary and presidential elections and will soon launch a new political movement for that purpose.
Sarkisian said he is undaunted by the failure of the Armenian opposition’s most recent attempt to topple President Robert Kocharian. He also reiterated his belief that the ruling regime will never hold free and fair elections.
“To hope that these authorities will make sure that next year’s [parliamentary] elections are free and fair is ludicrous,” the chairman of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party told RFE/RL in an interview. “I insist on the holding of pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections in our country.”
“It is no longer possible to establish democracy in this country through elections,” he added.
Such statements have been dismissed by Kocharian and the leaders of his three-party governing coalition. Western powers and the United States in particular also want Armenia’s current president and parliament to complete their constitutional terms in 2008 and respectively, saying that regime change is not a necessary condition for democratization. Washington unveiled late last year a $6 program of mostly logistical and educational measures designed to facilitate the proper conduct of the next Armenian polls. But local skeptics say they will not address the root cause of the country’s post-Soviet culture of electoral fraud.
Armenia’s leading opposition groups have tried twice in the last two years to force Kocharian into resignation through a campaign of street protests in Yerevan. Both attempts failed due poor attendance of opposition rallies, mostly recently in the wake of last November’s disputed constitutional referendum. The last fiasco prompted some oppositionists, notably the top leader of the Artarutyun alliance, Stepan Demirchian, to declare that Armenians are not prepared for the kind of revolutions that took place in Georgia and Ukraine.
Sarkisian, however, appears to think otherwise, saying that he plans to rally Hanrapetutyun and other “hardline” opposition elements around the idea of a “democratic revolution” in Armenia. The new movement may launch a fresh campaign for regime change as early as this spring, he said without elaborating.
Sarkisian claimed that the radical opposition can pull large crowds if it “works hard” and sticks to its increasingly pro-Western agenda. “The independence and sovereignty of our country is in jeopardy. The president of a foreign country declares in another foreign country that he will summon the president of my country for consultations,” he said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to invite Kocharian to Moscow for urgent “consultations” on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“This is an offense to me and my country. This alone is a good reason to take to the streets and get rid of these authorities,” added Sarkisian. “Very soon our people will really understand the danger facing our country and we will have serious crowds in the streets.”
The Hanrapetutyun leader ruled out further cooperation with Demirchian and singled out another prominent oppositionist, Vazgen Manukian, when asked about his potential allies. He is also known to be sympathetic to Raffi Hovannisian, Armenia’s popular former foreign minister.
Manukian warned last month that he and his National Democratic Union party will boycott the 2007 parliamentary election unless the country’s political system dominated by Kocharian and his loyalists undergoes important changes this year.