By Ruzanna Stepanian and Anna Saghabalian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian publicly pressed fellow opposition candidate Artur Baghdasarian to back his presidential bid and claimed to have strong support within the state apparatus on Wednesday as he took his election campaign to southeastern Armenia.
The two opposition frontrunners negotiated on the possibility of joining forces ahead of the February 19 vote but failed to reach agreement before Saturday’s legal deadline for candidates’ withdrawal from the race. Baghdasarian indicated on Monday that he might still urge supporters to vote for Ter-Petrosian while having his name on the ballot.
“I’m sure that Artur Baghdasarian will also join us,” Ter-Petrosian told a campaign rally in the Vayots Dzor province. He said that will be part of the ongoing “unification of the entire people” around his candidacy.
Ter-Petrosian sounded less certain on that score and issued a stark warning to Baghdasarian as he proceeded to neighboring Syunik region bordering on Iran. “If [Baghdasarian] stands by the people, he will become an honorable man,” he told voters in the local town of Goris. “If he doesn’t do that, he will leave the political arena.”
The former president was clearly buoyed by Tuesday’s endorsement of his candidacy by another popular opposition leader, Raffi Hovannisian. Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun and Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir are the only opposition parties represented in Armenia’s parliament.
Baghdasarian made no public mention of his possible electoral alliance with Ter-Petrosian as he campaigned in the northeastern Tavush province on Wednesday. The former parliament speaker instead attacked President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, saying that they have turned Armenia into a “country without a future” where “people live in fear.”
Speaking at a rally in the regional capital Ijevan, Baghdasarian also accused the two men and their cronies of monopolizing lucrative sectors of the Armenian economy. “Who can now import petrol and diesel fuel today? Who can import wheat and flour today? A handful of people who are wealthier than the country,” he said.
As was the case during his campaign trips to other parts of the country, Baghdasarian urged Armenians not to sell their votes. “Those who vote for money will vote against their children,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian, meanwhile, claimed that he is attracting growing support from government and law-enforcement bodies. “Rest assured that state bodies are also with us,” he told supporters in Vayots Dzor. “At least 90 percent of the staffs of security bodies, ministries are with the people.”
Ter-Petrosian further claimed that more than 50 employees of the National Security Service (NSS) have refused to “work against their own people” in next week’s election and resigned from the former KGB in recent days. He did not elaborate.