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By Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian is negotiating with leaders of three pro-Western opposition parties on the possibility of forming an alliance ahead of next year’s parliamentary election, an aide confirmed on Saturday.

Vartan Khachatrian, a senior member of Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, said the ongoing talks are involving former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir party, Aram Sarkisian’s Hanrapetutyun as well as a smaller group called the Liberal Progressive Party.

All three opposition forces favor Armenia’s eventual withdrawal from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and accession to NATO. Baghdasarian revealed his pro-Western orientation in an April interview with a leading German newspaper which precipitated Orinats Yerkir’s removal from President Robert Kocharian’s governing coalition.

The new opposition alliance would lead to a significant realignment in the Armenian political arena and would be a major player in the 2007 election. Baghdasarian’s resignation as parliament speaker and his pullout from the governing coalition was welcomed by both Zharangutyun and Hanrapetutyun. The latter is the most radical of Armenian parties opposed to Kocharian, and it remains to be seen if the extremely cautious ex-speaker will agree to join forces with it.

“We have always been ready to unite the [opposition] field to give hope to the Armenian people,” said Khachatrian.

But Khachatrian made it clear that Zharangutyun may well contest the parliamentary polls on its own, arguing that Hovannisian is popular enough to earn his party seats in the National Assembly. He said a recent U.S.-funded opinion poll found that 74 percent of Armenians think well of the former foreign minister.

Khachatrian also presented Zharangutyun’s controversial ouster from its government-owned offices in Yerevan as an indication that the Armenian authorities see a serious threat to their hold on power emanating from Hovannisian. His supporters believe that this was also the reason why he had been controversially barred from standing in the last presidential election.

(Photolur photo: Raffi Hovannisian.)
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