By Ruzanna Stepanian
Opposition leader Stepan Demirchian defended on Wednesday his decision to endorse Levon Ter-Petrosian’s presidential candidacy and said Armenia’s former president is enjoying growing popular support.
Demirchian, who was the main opposition candidate in the previous presidential election, insisted that Ter-Petrosian has a “quite high” approval rating as evidenced by strong attendance at his recent rallies in Yerevan. “It has to be pointed out that there have been no such big rallies since 2003,” he said, recalling massive crowds pulled by him at the time.
“The rallies show that [Ter-Petrosian’s rating] is on the rise,” Demirchian told a news conference. “But everything still lies ahead. Everything will depend on work organization. The election campaign has not yet started.”
“When the airwaves open up and the first president and forces supporting him are able to communicate their views to the population, I think it will be possible to radically change the situation,” he added.
President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and their allies maintain that Ter-Petrosian is too unpopular to stand a chance of winning the February 19 election and will not be even the main opposition candidate. They cite opinion polls conducted by pro-government organizations which show that less than 5 percent of Armenians will vote for their former leader.
Demirchian, who claims to have been robbed of victory by Kocharian in the 2003 vote, dismissed those polls as fraudulent. “Opinion polls have always been used as a smokescreen for vote rigging,” he claimed. “They gave me 0.9 percent support [in 2003,] even though we won in the first round. So do not take those polls seriously.”
Demirchian’s People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) is the largest of a dozen opposition parties that have rallied around Ter-Petrosian. His decision not to run for president again and endorse Ter-Petrosian instead reflected recent years’ decline in his popularity that culminated in the HZhK’s dismal performance in last May’s parliamentary elections.