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A deputy chairman of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) on Wednesday described as “nonsense” a snap presidential election demanded by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) in its dialogue with Armenia’s leadership.


Galust Sahakian also said that the HAK lacks the muscle to force Sarkisian to cut short his five-year term in office, which is due to end in April 2013.

The HHK and its two junior partners in the ruling coalition have repeatedly ruled out the holding of fresh presidential and parliamentary elections. Still, a delegation representing the three-party coalition on Tuesday formally agreed to discuss the demand in its ongoing negotiations with HAK representatives.

The HAK wants the presidential ballot to be held in the middle of October. Leading members of the opposition bloc have threatened to step up antigovernment street protests if the talks yield no progress on this issue by the beginning of September.

Sahakian, who also leads the HHK’s parliamentary faction, brushed aside these threats. “They are trying to tell the public that they are so powerful, that there is already diarchy in the country and that they can get and take things,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

“That is not negotiable, the issues they are raising are very dangerous for our state,” he said, adding that Sarkisian and other coalition leaders have never even discussed the idea of fresh elections.

In its second meeting with HAK negotiators held on Tuesday, the coalition team led by Davit Harutiunian proposed that the dialogue also center on “the formulation of rules ensuring civilized competition aimed at the proper conduct of elections.” The opposition side accepted the proposal.

Gagik Minasian, a member of Harutiunian’s team affiliated with the HHK, clarified on Wednesday that the authorities think Armenia’s leading political forces should work out and sign up to a “code of conduct” ahead of the next national elections. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, he said that would significantly lower chances of serious vote rigging.

Asked about the possibility of the HHK or another governing party not honoring such an accord, Minasian replied, “You can say the same thing about opposition parties. Nobody can give such guarantees.”

“But a party resorting to that step would immediately become the target of criticism from others. It’s not easy to be viewed as a renegade party,” he said.

Armenia -- Former prime minister Hrant Bagratian at a press conference in Yerevan, 24Feb2010

The HHK has long faced such criticism from the HAK and other opposition forces. They accuse it of operating a nationwide vote-rigging network that comprises government and law-enforcement officials, wealthy businesspeople and even criminal elements. The ruling party denies these allegations.

Meanwhile, Hrant Bagratian, a former prime minister affiliated with the HAK, insisted on Wednesday that only snap polls could end Armenia’s post-Soviet culture of electoral fraud. “Fresh elections must be held even if they are scheduled for the day before regular elections,” he said.

“A pre-term election would mean that the public has not come to terms with the last, falsified elections,” Bagratian told a news conference. “This is a matter of principle.”

Bagratian also claimed that the HAK could have easily seized power in March, shortly after launching a fresh campaign of demonstrations in Yerevan. He said the opposition bloc led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian steered clear of another standoff with the government for fear of provoking an Azerbaijani attack on Nagorno-Karabakh.
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