Raffi Hovannisian, the main opposition candidate in the Armenian presidential election, rallied thousands of supporters in Yerevan on Wednesday to again reject the official vote results as fraudulent and demand President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
The rally began in the city’s Liberty Square immediately after the expiry of a deadline that was set by Hovannisian for the reelected incumbent.
Hovannisian, who has declared himself the rightful election winner, demanded on Tuesday that Sarkisian meet and discuss with him “the transfer of power to the Armenian people.” He reiterated that demand as he addressed the crowd chanting “Victory!” and “President!” on Wednesday. He also repeatedly referred to Monday’s ballot as a “stolen election.”
Speaking earlier in the day, the presidential press secretary, Armen Arzumanian, said Sarkisian is ready to receive the U.S.-born opposition leader in the presidential palace “at any time.” “The president of the republic has always been ready to meet with the leaders of all political forces in every case of necessity,” Arzumanian said.
Arzumanian at the same time dismissed Hovannisian’s allegations of vote rigging and calls for Sarkisian’s resignation. “All international observer missions have concluded that the 2013 presidential elections were the best in the 21-year history of the Republic of Armenia … Against such a backdrop, Mr. Hovannisian’s statements are causing bewilderment, to say the least,” added Arzumanian.
Armenia - Supporters of opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian rally in Yerevan's Liberty Square, 20Feb2013.
During the rally, Hovannisian signaled his intention to launch a campaign of street protests, urging supporters to brace themselves for a “prolonged struggle.” He revealed that the sprawling square, which was the scene of massive post-election protests after the previous presidential election, has been “booked” for a rally planned Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) for Thursday afternoon.
“We will wait here until 2 p.m. tomorrow or as much as necessary to meet him and hold a ceremony of the transfer of power right here in Liberty Square,” Hovannisian said. “We must stay here until victory. This time it won’t be a moral victory. It will be a real victory.”
Ruben Tadevosian, a senior HHK member, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) afterwards that the ruling party is now considering cancelling the rally because of Hovannisian’s statements.
In his speech, Hovannisian also appealed to other opposition forces to join his movement. Some prominent opposition figures rushed to express support for his cause at the rally. Those included Nikol Pashinian, a parliament deputy who played a major role in the 2008 post-election protests staged by another opposition leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian.
“The triumph of the Armenian citizen is unstoppable and the victory of the people inevitable,” Pashinian told the enthusiastic crowd, calling Hovannisian the legitimate election winner.
Armenia - Opposition leaders Raffi Hovannisian (L) and Nikol Pashinian greet protesters in Yerevan's Liberty Square, 20Feb2013.
But Pashinian cautioned that the success of the movement will depend on Hovannisian’s “determination” and ability to “address the people without puzzles.” “The people of Armenia cannot be led to a defeat or disappointment. Victory or northing! Victory and nothing else!” declared the outspoken oppositionist.
Pashinian is a dissident member of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK), a leading opposition force that has had an uneasy relationship with Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
The HAK and another major opposition party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), did not nominate or endorse any presidential candidates. They both denounced the Armenian authorities’ handling of the vote in separate statements on Tuesday. But neither group explicitly voiced support for Hovannisian.