By Astghik Bedevian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian portrayed Armenia’s upcoming presidential election as a showdown between himself and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian as he received fresh pledges of allegiance from about two dozen opposition parties over the weekend.
Addressing hundreds of their activists who gathered for a one-day conference in Yerevan, Ter-Petrosian said he will be Sarkisian’s main challenger because none of the other opposition candidates has managed to muster multi-partisan support for their presidential bids. He claimed that some of them are secretly collaborating with the Armenian authorities to prevent him from returning to power.
“No other candidate has consolidated so many influential forces, something which allows one to speak about, if not the emergence of a single opposition candidate, but at least the formation of a clear pole opposed to the regime,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian dismissed as fraudulent opinion polls which show him trailing not only Sarkisian but also other candidates. He argued that he has been the main target of attacks by pro-government politicians and media in recent weeks. “Isn’t it obvious that if the published ratings were authentic, there would be no need for such edginess [on the part of the government] and Serzh Sarkisian would stand in the elections to the accompaniment of folk music and a brass band?” he said.
Ter-Petrosian’s presidential bid has so far been endorsed by 17 mostly small parties strongly opposed to Armenia’s present leadership. Among those parties are the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), the radical opposition Hanrapetutyun party and the People’s Party of Stepan Demirchian, the main opposition candidate in the last presidential election. In his speech, Ter-Petrosian referred to them as his core support base.
The former president also denounced as “bogus candidates” other opposition heavyweights who have refused to rally around him. In an apparent reference to Artashes Geghamian and possibly Vazgen Manukian, he said they joined the presidential race on government orders with the aim of discrediting him and thereby facilitating a “reproduction” of the ruling regime.
Both Geghamian and Manukian say they refused to throw their weight behind Ter-Petrosian because they believe his track record in government was no better than that of the current authorities in Yerevan. They also insist that they remain in opposition to the administration of President Robert Kocharian. Observers note, however, that both prominent oppositionists have toned down their criticism of the government of late.
In his speech, Ter-Petrosian sounded confident about his chances of defeating Sarkisian, saying that he will visit all regions of Armenia and meet “as many people as possible” during his election campaign. He also told loyalists that he will draw on his experience as a leader of the 1988 movement for Nagorno-Karabakh’s unification with Armenia which brought down the republic’s last Communist government in 1990.
“Our authorities are no more invincible than the government of the Soviet Union. If we managed to defeat [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, then what prevents us from defeating Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian?” he said to rapturous applause.
Hanrapetutyun’s outspoken leader, Aram Sarkisian, appeared to answer this question in his own speech at the gathering. “For the ruling [Sarkisian-Kocharian] pair, retaining power is a matter of life or death,” Sarkisian said. “That is why they are gearing up for a fight, not an election. A fight against Levon Ter-Petrosian.”