By Astghik Bedevian
Vazgen Manukian, a veteran opposition politician, reaffirmed on Wednesday his decision to run in Armenia’s upcoming presidential election, despite his failure so far to win the backing of other opposition heavyweights.
“In Armenia, people have African wages, European prices of food and other consumer goods,” he said. “There is an elite within the state that has the right to engage in any form of business, both legal and illegal, and privileges, including the right to get away with murders. They are reciprocating all this by helping the authorities rig elections.”
“For me elections are a way of changing that model,” Manukian told reporters.
Manukian, who had served as Armenia’s first post-Communist prime minister from 1990-1991, has boycotted the ongoing multi-party negotiations on the possibility of fielding a single opposition presidential candidate. He defended the boycott on Wednesday, saying that he believes the talks will prove fruitless. He predicted that the presidential ballot, due next February or March, will be contested by a dozen or so candidates.
Most local observers agree that the divided Armenian opposition will stand a chance of defeating the election favorite, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, only if it rallies around one or two candidates. Few of them regard Manukian as a strong contender.
The ex-premier has seen his popularity steadily decline over the past decade, garnering less than 1 percent of the last in the first round of the last presidential election held in 2003. So far no major opposition party except his National Democratic Union (AZhM) has voiced support for his presidential run.
Manukian claimed that he is undaunted by his perceived lack of popularity. “I never cared much about my rating,” he said. “If somebody with a higher rating says, ‘Vazgen, come and join me,’ I will tell them that I don’t care about their rating at all,” he added.
Manukian also predicted that former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, who he had nearly unseated in 1996, will not after all end his retirement and enter the presidential race. “I am convinced that he will not field his candidacy,” he said.
The two men were the principal figures in Armenia’s first post-Communist leadership before becoming bitter foes during the early 1990s. They faced each other the disputed 1996 presidential election, official results of which gave victory to Ter-Petrosian. Manukian still claims to be the rightful winner of the vote.
“I have no personal feud with the first president,” declared the AZhM leader. “If he wants to meet me, I will not object.”
Ter-Petrosian, who is considering running for president, has avoided any contacts with Manukian, preferring to talk to other opposition leaders instead. Sources told RFE/RL that he met with Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian, the two main opposition candidates during the 2003 election, in recent days.