By Ruzanna Stepanian
Aram Karapetian, a radical opposition leader, reaffirmed on Monday his intention to contest next year’s presidential election, saying that he will win more votes than any other opposition candidate.
Karapetian said he will therefore not join the ongoing negotiations among other top opposition on the possibility of fielding a common presidential candidate.
“I officially state that I will be nominated as a presidential candidate and will not join forces with anyone,” he told a news conference. “I will go it alone.”
“I welcome negotiations among all sections of the opposition. I will be happy if they agree on a single candidate. But I will not take part in such negotiations,” added Karapetian.
It is widely agreed that Armenia’s fragmented opposition can mount a serious challenge against the main pro-government candidate, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, only if it rallies around one or two well-known candidates. The lack of opposition unity greatly facilitated the landslide victory of Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) in parliamentary elections held last May.
Karapetian, who has spent much of the past 15 years in Russia and makes no secret of his pro-Russian views, disputed this widely held belief, saying that the abundance of contenders will actually make it impossible for Sarkisian to win the election outright in the first round. “In my view, the run-off will be between Serzh Sarkisian and Aram Karapetian,” he claimed.
Karapetian also claimed that he will do well in the upcoming presidential ballot not least because he has more campaigning funds at his disposal than any other opposition hopeful. He said the source of the money is his Moscow-based businessman brother and “very rich friends” living in Russia and Armenia.
Official results of the legislative polls showed Karapetian’s Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party garnering only 3.4 percent of the vote and failing to gain any parliament seats. Still, the performance was better than expected given the small size of the party and its lack of access to government-controlled television. Karapetian was clearly buoyed by it, announcing plans to join the presidential race immediately after the May vote.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) barred the Nor Zhamanakner leader from contesting the previous parliamentary elections held in May 2003 on the grounds that he had not permanently resided in Armenia for the past five years. The minimum residency requirement set by the Armenian constitution for presidential hopefuls is ten years, meaning that Karapetian will not be eligible for the Armenian presidency unless the CEC reconsiders that decision.