By Emil Danielyan and Ann Israelian
President Robert Kocharian went on national television late Friday to advise former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian against withdrawing his presidential candidacy in favor of another, more radical opposition contender, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The extraordinary move came as Baghdasarian and Ter-Petrosian continued to negotiate on the possibility of joining forces ahead of the presidential election slated for February 19. Under Armenian law, the officially registered presidential candidates will not be able to drop out of the race after Saturday.
“I believe that in case of joining [Ter-Petrosian] Artur Baghdasarian would lose at least half of his electorate,” Kocharian told a rare news conference organized for Armenia’s main TV stations and other pro-government media.
“Because the electorate of Orinats Yerkir (the Baghdasarian-led opposition party) is an electorate which is longing for stability and is not embittered for the most part. I don’t think its mood is compatible with [that of] Levon Ter-Petrosian’s embittered camp,” he said, adding that many Orinats Yerkir supporters would rather vote for Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian than the “discredited” ex-president.
Kocharian also said that Baghdasarian, whose party was forced out of Armenia’s governing coalition in 2006, should not be lured by the possibility of taking up the post of prime minister in a would-be Ter-Petrosian administration. He argued that Armenian prime ministers now need to be confirmed by the National Assembly, which is controlled by Sarkisian’s Republican Party.
In an interview with RFE/RL earlier in the day, Baghdasarian again did not rule out the possibility of quitting the race and endorsing Ter-Petrosian. He admitted that not all of his supporters would approve of such a move. “Of course, there are tens of thousands of people who might not vote in the event of such a unification, but hundreds of thousands of others might vote,” he said.
Baghdasarian reiterated his view that Ter-Petrosian should also consider withdrawing his candidacy. “There are hundreds of thousands of people who assert that that consolidation must take place around our team. Naturally, there are also other views,” he said, adding that he will meet Ter-Petrosian for final talks late Friday.
The former president and parliament speaker have emerged as Sarkisian’s main challengers in the election campaign, and analysts believe that their electoral alliance would make the outcome of the presidential ballot more unpredictable. Kocharian claimed, however, that all opposition contenders are vying for a “second place” and that none of them stands a chance of defeating his favored successor.
The outgoing president also laughed off the ex-speaker’s claims that he received death threats from governing circles. Kocharian said Baghdasarian, who made the claims at a February 3 rally in Yerevan, failed to substantiate them at a meeting with a senior police official on Thursday. “Seeing that the crowd of that many people, he probably got agitated and decided to say something original,” he said.