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By Emil Danielyan
Vazgen Manukian, a veteran opposition politician, insisted on Monday that he is not retiring from the political arena despite his party’s decision to boycott the May 12 elections to Armenia’s parliament.

“We are not quitting politics,” he told RFE/RL in an interview. “We will remain actively involved in it.”

Manukian’s National Democratic Union (AZhM) decided not to contest the elections last week after the failing to form an electoral alliance with several other major opposition parties. The collapse of their negotiations is widely expected to make it easier for President Robert Kocharian and his loyalists to win a majority in the next National Assembly.

Manukian said he believes that by contesting the elections separately, the leading Armenia opposition forces stand no real chance of winning a parliament majority. “Mechanisms for hiding vote falsifications have become quite sophisticated,” he said. “In these circumstances, it would be possible to change the situation only if there emerged a broad-based opposition movement. But even that would not guarantee success as you also have to do a huge amount of work at the grassroots level.”

The upcoming vote will therefore “not change the situation in Armenia,” according to Manukian. “Being a deputy of this and next parliaments is neither honorable nor makes sense.”

Apart from the AZhM, the opposition talks also involved the People’s Party (HZhK) of Stepan Demirchian, Kocharian’s main challenger in the last presidential election, and two other parties led by Aram Sarkisian and Raffi Hovannisian.

Demirchian agreed to team up with them on the condition that at least half of the would-be bloc’s candidates represent the HZhK. According to some media reports, he also demanded assurances that he would be the bloc’s single candidate in next year’s presidential election. A top aide to Demirchian, Grigor Harutiunian, did not deny this in a weekend interview with RFE/RL.

The conditions were reportedly deemed unacceptable by Manukian, Sarkisian, and Hovannisian. The three leaders failed to reach a pre-election agreement even among themselves for reasons that are not fully clear.

Manukian was reluctant to divulge details of their discussions, saying only that he wanted the would-be bloc to have a collective leadership. “I argued that if those several parties were to unite it would be wrong to pick a leader,” he said. “Even if I were offered top the list of its candidates.”

“I believe there should have been a committee made up of four or five persons who would publicly declare the bloc’s aims, state that they are all equal and decide who tops the list by a draw,” added the AZhM leader.

Manukian himself led the Armenian opposition in 1996 when it nearly succeeded in unseating then President Levon Ter-Petrosian in a reputedly fraudulent presidential election. His influence and popularity have declined dramatically since then. Manukian fared extremely poorly in the first round of the 2003 presidential ballot before endorsing Demirchian for a tense runoff with Kocharian.

The 61-year-old mathematician, who headed Armenia’s first post-Communist government in 1990-1991 and was defense minister during the most successful period of its war with Azerbaijan, made it clear that he will again run for president in 2008. “I will definitely nominate my candidacy in the presidential election,” he said. “Without any arrogance, I would say that if there is anyone who can defeat this regime, it’s me. But that could happen only if I am surrounded by an appropriate team and trust.”

(Photolur photo)
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