By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian said on Wednesday that he regrets opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian’s inability to run for president, but insisted that the Armenian authorities’ decision to bar him from contesting the February 19 election was utterly legal.
Armenia’s constitution stipulates that only those individuals who have been Armenian citizens and resided in the country for at least ten years preceding an election can be registered as presidential candidates. Hovannisian was granted Armenian citizenship in 2001, more than a decade after moving to Yerevan from the United States.
He has repeatedly demanded that his citizenship be backdated to the first year of Armenia’s independence, saying that his citizenship applications had for years been illegally ignored by President Robert Kocharian and his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian. Kocharian again rejected the demand late last month, effectively disqualifying the popular leader of the opposition Zharangutyun party from the presidential race.
Sarkisian, widely seen as the election frontrunner, defended the decision, saying that it stemmed from the constitution. Still, he indicated that he would prefer to face Hovannisian, rather than other, more radical opposition contenders.
“I consider the non-registration a forced step on the part of the authorities,” Sarkisian told reporters. “I do regret that their legal ban on Raffi Hovannisian’s participation in the presidential election because I think he could have played a positive role.”
“In a sense, I am sure that there would be more calm in the electoral process and people hoping to come in second, third or fourth would do worse,” he said in a clear reference to Ter-Petrosian.
Hovannisian, whose party did relatively well in last May’s parliamentary elections, has yet to specify whether he will endorse another opposition candidate or urge his supporters to boycott the vote.