By Ruben Meloyan
Several prominent leaders of Armenia’s fragmented opposition were in no rush at the weekend to accept former President Levon Ter-Petrosian calls to endorse his candidacy in the upcoming presidential election.
Appealing to a dozen potential opposition presidential candidates during a rally in Yerevan on Friday, Ter-Petrosian said he will not serve a full five-year term in office in the event of his victory in the February 12 vote and their endorsement of his presidential bid.
“Exactly three years after assuming the post of president of the Republic of Armenia I will be ready to leave the political arena for good, enabling you to elect a new president of the country in absolute free and legitimate elections,” he said in another lengthy speech. “Furthermore, I will not interfere in those elections. They will be held by the chairman of the National Assembly.”
“My supporters and myself are putting ourselves at your full disposal. Just use as a tool for to get rid of the criminal regime and realize your legitimate right to seek power,” added Ter-Petrosian. He warned that the Armenian opposition’s failure to rally around him would play into Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s hands but would not weaken his “resolve” to topple the ruling “kleptocracy.”
Ter-Petrosian has so far been endorsed by the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) and about a dozen other, mostly small opposition parties, including the People’s Party of Stepan Demirchian, the main opposition candidate in the last presidential election. None of them has seats in Armenia’s current parliament elected last May.
A senior member of the Orinats Yerkir Party, one of the two opposition groups represented in the National Assembly, told RFE/RL that its governing board will meet on Thursday to discuss Ter-Petrosian’s proposal. The Orinats Yerkir leader, former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, has long been harboring presidential ambitions and has until now ruled out the possibility of his withdrawal from the race in favor of another opposition contender.
A spokesman for the other opposition parliamentary party, Zharangutyun, said it can not respond to the offer because its U.S.-born leader Raffi Hovannisian is not in Armenia at the moment. Hovannisian and his allies insist that he is eligible to run for president despite not having been an Armenian citizen for the past ten years, something which is required by the country’s constitution. They say his repeated citizenship applications had been illegally ignored by Ter-Petrosian and the current President Robert Kocharian.
Artashes Geghamian, who was also a key opposition contender of the 2003 presidential ballot, responded coolly to Ter-Petrosian’s call, welcoming only the ex-president’s readiness to serve as a “tool” for regime change. “In that sense I find positive Levon Ter-Petrosian’s offer and readiness to serve the opposition,” he said. “As to how we will make use of that readiness, that will be discussed at a meeting of our party’s presidium.”
Vazgen Manukian, another opposition heavyweight who had been Ter-Petrosian’s main challenger in the troubled presidential election of September 1996, was even more dismissive of his erstwhile foe. “Candidates always make such offers. The trouble is that there is an element of blackmail in that offer,” he said.
Manukian also made it clear that he does not consider Ter-Petrosian an “alternative” to Kocharian or Sarkisian. He has repeatedly stated that he will contest the presidential election in any case.
Also planning to join the race is Aram Karapetian, the leader of the pro-Russian Nor Zhamanakner Party. “The Nor Zhamanakner Party regards as very positive all those actions that take place in the opposition camp and are directed against the authorities,” a spokesman said, commenting on Ter-Petrosian’s latest speech. “But we will not be commenting on other party leaders’ views for now.”
(Photolur photo: Ter-Petrosian supporters rally in Yerevan on Friday.)