By Astghik Bedevian
Vazgen Manukian, a veteran Armenian politician, reaffirmed on Thursday his intention to stand in next year’s presidential election and his hopes to build broad-based opposition support for his candidacy.
Manukian again warned that Armenia’s divided opposition will suffer another crushing defeat if it fails to close ranks ahead of the election due next February or March. He said he is ready to act as its consolidator.
“I have stated on a number of occasions that I am ready to shoulder that responsibility, just as I did in 1988, 1990 and during the war [with Azerbaijan,]” Manukian told a news conference. “But I do realize that the matter can not be solved by a single individual or a party. The matter can be solved only with a consolidation of the entire society and opposition forces that sincerely want change.”
“My gut feeling is that we will manage to do that in 2008,” he added.
Manukian, who had served as Armenia’s first post-Communist prime minister in 1990-1991, was already a single opposition candidate in 1996 when he was narrowly defeated by then President Levon Ter-Petrosian in a presidential election criticized as deeply flawed by Western observers. His star faded in the following years, culminating in his extremely poor showing in the last presidential ballot held in 2003.
Unlike most other opposition parties, Manukian’s National Democratic Union (AZhM) boycotted the May 12 parliamentary elections that ended in a humiliating defeat for President Robert Kocharian’s two main 2003 challengers, Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian.
Manukian would not say whether any of the major opposition groups is now ready to back his presidential bid. “Discussions are still uncertain, and I wouldn’t like to divulge their details,” he said.
Raffi Hovannisian, another prominent opposition leader whose party did much better in the legislative polls, hinted through aides on Wednesday that he too aspires to the status of top opposition presidential candidate. However, the Armenian authorities will likely bar Hovannisian from contesting the 2008 election on the grounds that he has not been an Armenian citizen for the past ten years, something which is required by the country’s constitution.