By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian and his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party endorsed Levon Ter-Petrosian on Tuesday, boosting the former president’s chances of winning the Armenian presidential election.
The decision was announced after a meeting of Zharangutyun’s nine-member governing board which began late Monday and ended after midnight. In a written statement, the party said Ter-Petrosian’s return to power would enable Armenia to undergo “systemic changes” and have a “legitimate president.”
Zharangutyun representatives indicated that the decision was not made unanimously but did not specify whether Hovannisian voted for it. The U.S.-born popular politician, who had served as independent Armenia’s first foreign minister during Ter-Petrosian’s rule, declined to attend a news conference held by them the next morning.
“Of all the candidates [Ter-Petrosian] has attracted greatest public interest,” said Vartan Khachatrian, a board member. “That is obvious from his rallies. That factor had a serious impact on our vote.”
According to Zharangutyun spokesman Hovsep Khurshudian, the hostile coverage of Ter-Petrosian’s campaign by Armenia’s leading TV stations loyal to the government was also a factor behind the move.
Zharangutyun made a relatively strong showing in the May 2007 parliamentary elections, becoming one of only two opposition parties represented in the National Assembly thanks to its leader’s appeal. Hovannisian, who is not eligible to stand in the upcoming ballot, has been courted in recent months by several presidential candidates, including Ter-Petrosian. He twice met the ex-president late last year and is understood to have participated in the latter’s negotiations last week with another major opposition contender, Artur Baghdasarian.
“During the negotiations [with Ter-Petrosian] we received answers to many questions,” Khachatrian told reporters. “I wouldn’t say that all issues between us have been solved as we have some ideological differences.” He said Hovannisian and the eight other members of the Zharangutyun plan to meet Ter-Petrosian soon to “ascertain” his position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and other challenges facing Armenia.
Zharangutyun indicated last month that it will not endorse any of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s four main challengers unless at least two of them join forces before the first round of voting scheduled for February 19. None of them has dropped out of the race.
“The negotiation process did not yield desirable results,” said Khachatrian. “This step is aimed at making the [opposition] field more inclusive and combative. The negotiations are not over.”
“We believe that with this step the Zharangutyun party can spur the process of forming an opposition wave capable of effecting changes which we find necessary in Armenia,” he added.