By Astghik Bedevian, Ruzanna Khachatrian, and Hovannes Shoghikian
The leader of the radical Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, Aram Sarkisian, launched a blistering attack on two other prominent opposition figures on Monday, saying that their personal ambitions thwarted his attempts to unite the Armenian opposition.
Campaigning in the eastern Gegharkunik region, he said Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian, President Robert Kocharian’s main challengers in the last presidential election, are not committed to regime change and would settle for a handful of seats in the next Armenian parliament.
“They are taking care of their 5 percent objectives. All they want is to enter parliament,” Sarkisian told more than two hundred supporters in Vartenis, a small town near the eastern coast of Lake Sevan. He was referring to the minimum percentage of votes needed by parties to win parliament seats under the system of proportional representation.
The Hanrapetutyun leader has until now avoided naming politicians who he believes are responsible for the failure of his attempts earlier this year to form a broad-based opposition bloc. He was particularly critical of Geghamian.
“When you say, ‘Guys, let’s unite and draft a single proportional list,’ Geghamian says, ‘No, going together is not good,’” said Sarkisian. “Why? Because he is solving the issue of 5 percent to keep going to Strasbourg and coming here and saying, ‘People, I’ve saved your honor.’”
“If you, Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian, can’t figure out who should be the first and second [on a single proportional list,] toss a coin and close the issue,” he added to rapturous applause from the crowd.
Sarkisian, Demirchian and Geghamian had already joined forces in a bid to unseat Kocharian with a campaign of street protests in Yerevan three years ago. The two-month campaign ended in failure.
Sarkisian, who had briefly served as Armenia’s prime minister following the October 1999 assassination of his brother and predecessor Vazgen, again made no secret of his party’s plans to use May 12 elections for another attempt at “democratic revolution.” “May 12 will be followed by May 13. On that day I will await [in Yerevan] the people of Vartenis as well.” he said at the rally held in front of the local office of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
Demirchian, meanwhile, campaigned for his People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) in other towns and villages of Gegharkunik. His meetings there were attended by smaller number of people partly because of heavy rain and hail. The HZhK campaign so far has been a far cry from enthusiastic receptions which Demirchian enjoyed across the country in the run-up to the 2003 presidential election.
Demirchian exposed his frustration with widespread voter cynicism as he addressed a small crowd in the lakeside village of Lchashen. “People don’t want to go to elections, saying that their votes will be stolen anyway,” he said. “Wherever I go, the meeting begins with the same complaint, ‘We elect you but they steal our vote and they will steal it again.’”
Demirchian went on to accuse the HHK and other pro-Kocharian parties of large-scale vote buying. “They spend a fraction of unpaid taxes on handing out humiliating vote bribes,” he said. “But I believe that the vast majority of our people will not sell their dignity.”
The confusing abundance of opposition parties contesting the elections on their own is seen as another reason for increased apathy among Armenians unhappy with the government. Raffi Hovannisian, another prominent oppositionist, saw first-hand evidence of their frustration as he took his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party’s election campaign to the southern Ararat region on Monday.
“Whom to elect? We don’t know,” a man in the local village of Surenavan told Hovannisian. “Why don’t you unite?” angrily shouted another local resident.
“Any alliance is welcome because it’s a luxury for our small country to have 50, 60 or 70 parties,” responded Hovannisian. “I accept this complaint. I think that a consolidation process will begin after these elections.”
Zharangutyun negotiated earlier this year with Hanrapetutyun and two other opposition parties over the possibility of forming an electoral alliance. The talks collapsed for reasons that are still not fully clear.
(Photolur photo: Aram Sarkisian.)