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By Karine Kalantarian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian indicated on Thursday that his participation in next year’s presidential elections is unlikely despite an opinion poll suggesting that he is the most popular of potential contenders.

Oskanian left indications last year that he is seriously considering joining the race to succeed President Robert Kocharian. That prompted speculation that he, rather than Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, is Kocharian’s preferred successor.

Speaking at a regular news conference, Oskanian was asked whether he has already made a decision. “Those who want to be candidates are already speaking out. The fact that I don’t speak out means that I am not a candidate,” he replied without elaborating.

Oskanian, who has served as foreign minister since 1998, added only that he still does not know what he will do after Kocharian completes his second and final term in office next March.

A leading pro-Kocharian pollster told RFE/RL earlier this week that a recent U.S.-funded poll conducted by his Armenian Sociological Association found that Oskanian would have garnered the largest number of votes if the presidential ballot had been held in July. Gevorg Poghosian said Sarkisian was less popular than not only Oskanian but opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian and Kocharian-connected businessman Gagik Tsarukian as of July.

“The results are interesting,” Oskanian said, commenting on the survey. “I haven’t studied them in detail, I don’t even know the numbers. In any case, they are interesting, but don’t make me so enthusiastic that I will make decisions based on them.”

There are lingering questions as to whether Oskanian, who was born in Syria and later became a U.S. citizen, is eligible to run for president. Under Armenia’s constitution, only those individuals who have been Armenian citizens and lived in the country for at least ten years preceding a presidential election can be registered as candidates. Kocharian granted Oskanian Armenian citizenship in April 1998. The forthcoming vote is expected to take place in February or March 2008.

(Photolur photo)
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