By Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian effectively precluded on Friday Raffi Hovannisian’s participation in Armenia’s forthcoming presidential election, insisting through a top aide that the opposition leader is not eligible to run for president.
Under the Armenian constitution, only those individuals who have been Armenian nationals and permanently resided in the country for at least ten years preceding a presidential election can be registered as presidential candidates. Hovannisian moved to Yerevan from California in 1990 but received an Armenian passport more than a decade later. The U.S.-born politician has demanded that a 2001 presidential decree finally granting him citizenship be backdated to the first year of Armenia’s independence.
Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) Party renewed the demand in an appeal to Kocharian on Wednesday. It argued that Hovannisian had served as independent Armenia’s first foreign minister and is now one of the country’s most popular political figures. Some local commentators speculated that the authorities might allow him to run this time around in order to further split the opposition vote and weaken their most uncompromising challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
But according to Stepan Safarian, a senior Zharangutyun parliamentarian, the influential chief of Kocharian’s staff, Armen Gevorgian, reaffirmed the Armenian president’s position on the issue on Friday in an “extensive letter” to the party. “The letter said that the current president’s 2001 decree can not be revised,” Safarian told RFE/RL.
Safarian said that although the opposition party believes that Kocharian’s refusal is illegal and unsubstantiated, it is unlikely to challenge the move in court. “I don’t think we will go to court, even though that issue has not been discussed,” he said, arguing that Armenian judges rarely rule against the executive authority.
Hovannisian had already unsuccessfully challenged the presidential administration in local courts ahead of the last presidential election held in 2003. He has not yet indicated whether he will endorse another opposition candidate or urge his supporters to boycott the 2008 election if he is again barred from the presidential race.