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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The leader of Armenia’s former ruling party reiterated on Friday that ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian is ready to engage in the battle for presidency early next year.

Ararat Zurabian, who chairs the Board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), said that while Ter-Petrosian is certain to run for president, he will expressly state his desire at the stage of nominations.

“I strongly believe that Levon Ter-Petrosian is determined to participate in the political processes. It is certain that his nomination as a presidential candidate will happen,” he added.

Ter-Petrosian, who has avoided public appearances since resigning under pressure in February 1998, reportedly traveled to Armenia’s northern regions in recent weeks to hold meetings with local supporters. Despite repeated statements by his loyalists about his plans to make a presidential bid, the 62-year-old reclusive ex-leader has given no indication yet that he is considering a political comeback.

According to the HHSh leader, active negotiations with other opposition forces around a single presidential candidate are underway. He said he held several meetings with opposition leaders and politicians every day, including with Vazgen Manukian, who was Ter-Petrosian’s main rival in the 1996 presidential election and claims to have been deprived of a clear victory by the former regime.

Zurabian said that despite some personal disagreements that may exist between the two politicians, the HHSh board has “contacts and normal relations” with Manukian.

He described Manukian as a “very serious politician” who is capable of gathering a certain team around himself ahead of next year’s presidential election. “But unlike Levon Ter-Petrosian, he has no chance to win the elections,” Zurabian added.

Despite the ongoing negotiations, Zurabian does not think that either the opposition or the authorities will eventually field single candidates for the 2008 elections. But he said it is important for the opposition to form an “alternative” center.

Zurabian expects that like it happened in the past the authorities will have pseudo-candidates, who will be more outspoken about their opposition rivals.

“I don’t think that [Prime Minister] Serzh Sarkisian can look into Levon Ter-Petrosian’s eyes and say something against him. Naturally, he should use pseudo-candidates for this purpose,” Zurabian asserted.
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