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By Astghik Bedevian
Close associates of Raffi Hovannisian insisted on Wednesday that the U.S.-born opposition leader is eligible to run for president next year despite the fact that he received an Armenian passport less than ten years ago.

Under Armenia’s constitution, only those individuals who have been Armenian citizens and permanently resided in the country for at least ten years preceding a presidential election can contest it.

Hovannisian was granted Armenian citizenship by President Robert Kocharian in 2001, more than a decade after moving to Yerevan with his family from California. The government-controlled Central Election Commission cited this fact when it refused to register him as a candidate ahead of the last presidential ballot held in 2003.

Hovannisian, who had served as independent Armenia’s first foreign minister from 1991-1992, condemned the refusal as politically motivated and unlawful. He claimed that his numerous citizenship applications had for years been illegally ignored by Kocharian and his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian.

Senior members of Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party made the same argument at a news conference on Wednesday. They said the CEC should ignore Kocharian’s 2001 decree and base its decisions on the Armenian constitution and international conventions signed by Yerevan if their leader seeks to participate in the 2008 election.

“Such decrees are trumped by international conventions ratified by the Republic of Armenia and our constitution,” said Stepan Safarian, a Zharangutyun parliamentarian. “As far as the constitution is concerned, Raffi Hovannisian has no citizenship problem.”

“If Mr. Hovannisian had not been an Armenian citizen, he would not have been able to hoist Armenia’s flag at the UN and sign inter-state agreements,” said Zaruhi Postanjian, another member of the party’s parliament caucus. “So we consider the issue solved.”

Armenian law until recently did not ban foreign nationals from working as government ministers and occupying other government posts. Some of Armenia’s ambassadors abroad still do not have Armenian citizenship.

The Zharangutyun representatives stressed that Hovannisian has not yet decided whether to join the presidential race or endorse another opposition candidate instead. They said their party supports the idea of the Armenian opposition fielding a single presidential candidate, but would not be drawn on whether Hovannisian will aspire to that role.

Observers believe that the popular opposition politician will almost certainly be barred from running for president, especially considering his better-than-expected performance in the May 12 parliamentary elections. Zharangutyun became one of only two opposition groups represented in the new Armenian parliament, winning 6 percent of the vote, according to the CEC. Alleging large-scale electoral fraud, the party claims to have won three times as many votes.

(Photolur photo)
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