By Emil Danielyan, Astghik Bedevian, and Satenik Vantsian in Gyumri
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian claimed on Friday that his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party will garner more votes than any other political force if the May 12 parliamentary elections meet democratic standards.
“We are confident that if the vote count on May 12 is fair, Zharangutyun will be in the lead with a plurality of votes,” Hovannisian said as he rallied about a hundred supporters in central Yerevan.
His aides blamed heavy rain for the poor attendance of the rally, saying that Hovannisian’s campaign trips to other parts of Armenia generated much more public enthusiasm. Few analysts consider Zharangutyun an election favorite, even though its U.S.-born leader is widely regarded as one of the most popular opposition leaders, however.
Still, Hovannisian appeared buoyed by his party’s first-ever election campaign, telling the small crowd that May 12 will mark the “dawn of a new era” in the country’s post-Soviet history. “Armenia’s legislative and executive authorities will no longer be vulnerable and will enjoy the absolute trust of the people,” he said.
Hovannisian warned the Armenian authorities against falsifying the vote results but would not be drawn on his party’s possible post-election actions. “We believe that May 12 will see Armenia’s first electoral victory since 1991, and if the vote count reflects that reality, there will be no need for post-election civic initiatives,” he told RFE/RL after the speech. “If there are falsifications, we will make our decision after May 12. But right now we don’t think about that.”
Hovannisian did not rule out the possibility of Zharangutyun joining three other, more radical opposition groups that plan to launch a joint campaign of anti-government demonstrations after the vote which they claim will almost certainly be rigged. “I welcome their activities and respect their views,” he said. “And if the elections are rigged, the entire nation will unite and assert its rights.”
The Hanrapetutyun (Republic) and Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) parties as well as the Impeachment bloc rallied thousands of supporters in Yerevan on Thursday, urging them to get ready for sustained street protests against President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Their leaders reaffirmed their plans at a joint news conference the next day.
“Don’t rig, don’t steal votes,” Hanrapetutyun leader Aram Sarkisian said, addressing the authorities. “If you steal votes, we will rise up and will fight against you in the streets.”
Also threatening to “take to the streets and fight” was Stepan Demirchian, another opposition heavyweight who has not shared Hanrapetutyun’s uncompromising stance until now. Demirchian issued the warning as he campaigned in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri on Friday. He would not specify whether his People’s Party of Armenia is ready to join forces with the radical opposition.