By Ruzanna Stepanian
Opposition leader Artashes Geghamian announced on Tuesday his participation in the Armenian presidential election in a move which his aides said is aimed at staving off former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s return to power.
Geghamian and senior members of his National Accord Party (AMK) fiercely attacked Ter-Petrosian as they officially nominated his presidential candidacy. The AMK leadership also significantly toned down its criticism of the Armenian government.
Risking more accusations of secret collaboration with the authorities, Geghamian revealed that he has meet with President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian recently to discuss the upcoming election.
Geghamian was among a dozen opposition heavyweights whom Ter-Petrosian urged earlier this month to withdraw from the presidential race in his favor and help him topple the “corrupt and criminal” regime. The AMK leader was quick to reject the call and reaffirm his critical attitude towards the former president.
Geghamian said on Tuesday that he is unimpressed by Ter-Petrosian’s harsh criticism of the government, saying that the latter has essentially repeated his own characterizations. He also blasted the ex-president for alleging that Kocharian and Sarkisian have turned Armenia into a “gangster state.”
“If you have something to say, say it to Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian and [refer to] their policies,” he said. “Leave Armenian statehood alone.”
Geghamian’s closest associates went even further in condemning Ter-Petrosian and his discourse. One of them, Sarkis Muradkhanian, denounced the ex-president as a “landmine planted not only in the opposition field but under the foundations of Armenian statehood.”
The AMK’s second deputy chairman, Aleksan Karapetian, charged that Ter-Petrosian is surrounded by “thieving businessmen” and “populist revanchists.” “It must be pointed out that Ter-Petrosian himself bred many prominent representatives of today’s oligarchy and bureaucracy and bears the burden of responsibility for political disasters, murders of Armenia’s citizens, the cold and dark years, the people’s impoverishment and manifestations of total plunder,” Karapetian told a news conference.
This, according to Karapetian, is the key reason why Geghamian will contest the election scheduled for February 19.
Geghamian was at pains to insist that his and his party’s stance does not amount to an expression of support for the handover of power from Kocharian to Sarkisian. “The AMK equally rejects both the former and current authorities,” he told reporters.
Geghamian added that he has held face-to-face talks with Sarkisian and Kocharian “for the sake of Armenia’s stability.” “The key agreement reached [at the meetings] is that everything must be done to avert a destabilization of the situation in the country and prevent our centuries-old enemies, our neighbors from taking advantage of that,” he said.
The remarks were a far cry from Geghamian’s trademark anti-government rhetoric that helped him finish third in the last presidential election held in 2003. He has repeatedly accused Armenia’s two most powerful men of corruption and mismanagement in the past. Sarkisian, widely seen as the election favorite, has been equally scathing in his responses to Geghamian, repeatedly declaring that the AMK leader is “as empty as a drum.”
With the AMK failing to win a single parliament seat in the May elections, Geghamian appears to have lost much of his popularity since 2003 and is not regarded by analysts as a major contender of the upcoming ballot.