By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A traditional political party standing close to Armenia’s authorities has announced its candidate that it hopes will successfully contest presidency in elections due early next year.
At an extraordinary congress on Friday, delegates of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation - Dashnaktsutyun (ARF) voted overwhelmingly to choose Deputy Parliament Speaker Vahan Hovannisian as their candidate in the February 19 vote. Another senior representative of the party, Armen Rustamian, who had been nominated along with Hovannisian in the first ever party primaries in the history of Armenian politics, had withdrawn his candidacy shortly before the vote.
Despite his withdrawal, which was not foreseen by the procedure, Rustamian received 16 votes, another three delegates voted for both nominees. Hovannisian was endorsed by the votes of 60 delegates.
The final nomination of the Dashnak candidate followed a five-day nonbinding poll conducted among the Armenian public to gauge popular support for the nominees.
When announcing his withdrawal, Rustamian said the public opinion expressed by several hundred thousand people in the improvised plebiscite should be taken into account and urged the party delegates to support Hovannisian.
In his acceptance speech Hovannisian raised problems existing in the system, but said solutions must not be expected from the former authorities that have been showing signs of activity lately.
“We know them well and we haven’t forgotten anything. Having been in cooperation with the current authorities, we still feel we have enough experience and are ready to carry out these system changes ourselves,” Hovannisian said. “Why should the choice be made between the past and the president? We choose the future.”
In his speech Hovannisian also criticized the government for failing to develop the order of receiving dual citizenship. He hinted that perhaps Dashnaktsutyun’s high rating abroad is one of the reasons why the process has been slow.
“It turns out they did the good things in this country and bad things are ascribed to the rest,” Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Republican Party Serzh Sarkisian commented during the dinner break, but added: “Everything is normal, it is a political struggle.”
National-Democratic Union (AZhM) leader Vazgen Manukian, who was also among those attending, said addressing Dashnaktsutyun: “The most importance thing is a free man. If there is no free man, we will lose everything. I urge Dashnaktsutyun to go shoulder to shoulder and try to make changes in the country so that our people feel proud.”
“Old friends must reunite,” he concluded.
Last week a pro-opposition Armenian newspaper alleged that Dashnaktsutyun had offered Vazgen Manukian the post of the prime minister in return for his endorsement of its presidential candidate. The paper claimed that Manukian would become prime minister -- the post he held in the early 1990s -- in the event of Dashnaktsutyun’s victory in the February 19 election.
Manukian, who was unanimously nominated by his party as a presidential candidate earlier this week, flatly denied the report, but said that he and the Dashnaktsutyun candidate could well endorse each other only if one of them made it to the possible runoff. Vahan Hovannisian then found such a development to be “within the bonds of logic,” saying that his party had already supported the AZhM leader in the 1996 presidential election.