Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian pledged late Tuesday to continue to challenge the official results of Armenia’s disputed presidential election but made it clear that he will not hold unsanctioned demonstrations anytime soon.
Ter-Petrosian predicted that the Armenian authorities will prolong the state of emergency in Yerevan to make sure that Prime Minister and President-elect Serzh Sarkisian does not face street protests before and during his inauguration scheduled for April 9. He also said that he is ready to negotiate with the Armenian authorities while refusing to recognize the legitimacy of Sarkisian’s election win.
The 20-day state of emergency declared by departing President Robert Kocharian on March 1 bans rallies and other public gatherings in the capital. The Yerevan mayor’s office on Tuesday refused to authorize a rally which Ter-Petrosian hoped to hold in the city’s Liberty Square on March 21, saying that it would pose a “serious threat to the life and health of citizens.” In a written statement, an aide to Mayor Yervand Zakharian also argued that the last opposition rally held on March 1 was marred by deadly clashes between Ter-Petrosian supporters and riot police.
Speaking at a news conference held in his house, Ter-Petrosian said he will file more rally applications to the mayor’s office. “They can’t reject our applications all the time,” he said. “They’ll find another way [of preventing rallies.] They’ll simply prolong the state of emergency. They need 20 more days [of emergency rule] so that there are no rallies until April 9.”
“We do not plan to hold unsanctioned rallies,” he added.
Armenia’s Constitutional Court on Saturday rejected Ter-Petrosian’s appeal against what he sees as “fraudulent” official results of the February 19 election that gave a landslide victory to Sarkisian. The court found credible some of the vote rigging allegations made by the opposition candidate but said they were not serious enough to affect the election outcome.
In his first public reaction to the ruling, Ter-Petrosian stressed the fact that it made no mention of his claims that Sarkisian was not eligible to run for president because of a law that bars serving government officials from contesting presidential elections. He claimed that the court thereby recognized the validity of his arguments and indirectly called into question the legitimacy of Armenia’s next president. He said he will therefore continue to fight for regime change in a “civilized, understandable, clear and uncompromising way.”
“Once there is a possibility of holding rallies, once the [independent] media resumes its operations, we will use the media, we will use rallies and all other legal means of communicating with the people. Something which we did for five months,” said Ter-Petrosian. “I will be telling the people that I do not accept the legitimacy of these authorities.”
The chain-smoking ex-president made clear at the same time that he is ready to engage in dialogue with the authorities to try to ease the post-election tensions in Armenia. “I won’t recognize Serzh Sarkisian’s legitimacy but that doesn’t mean I won’t talk to him,” he said, reaffirming his acceptance of relevant proposals made by the European Union last week.
The EU’s Slovenian presidency said that in order to facilitate such dialogue the Armenian government should lift the state of emergency, release all political prisoners and allow an “independent investigation” into the March 1 violence that left at least eight people dead. However, the government ruled out an early end to emergency rule and widened its post-election crackdown on the opposition.
“They keep talking about dialogue, but are doing everything to scuttle it,” Ter-Petrosian complained, urging the EU to press the Kocharian-Sarkisian administration to go along with its proposals.
Ter-Petrosian claimed at the same time that the authorities are only “making their life harder” with the continuing mass arrests of his supporters and other “political repressions.” “No regime in a country like Armenia can have the resources to establish dictatorship,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian also put a brave face on his failure to unseat Armenia’s current leadership, saying that he has managed to generate, against all odds, a mass anti-government movement ever since ending his self-imposed political retirement last September. The 63-year-old scholar, who had led the country to independence from the Soviet Union, was thought to be highly unpopular when he announced his decision to join the unfolding presidential race. Still, he managed to attract a large following and emerged as Sarkisian’s main challenger in the following months.
“Our people are now totally different from who they were five months ago,” said Ter-Petrosian. “I consider this to be the greatest achievement of my life. I and my team of supporters have done a miracle. We have created a new society, civil society, conscious society, intellectual society that has to be reckoned with.”