Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian pledged to continue challenging the legitimacy of President Serzh Sarkisian’s reelection with nationwide street protests as he again rallied several thousand supporters in Yerevan on Tuesday.
Hovannisian also condemned the international community for accepting the official results of the disputed February 18 election. He said congratulatory letters sent to Sarkisian by the U.S. and Russian presidents as well as other foreign leaders were a “huge mistake.”
“There will be no retreat,” he told the crowd that gathered in Yerevan’s Liberty Square despite cold weather and a snowfall. “Nothing will make us deviate from our path,” he said in an unusually emotional speech.
Hovannisian announced that he will tour more areas outside Yerevan, including the cities of Gyumri and Vanadzor, on Wednesday and Thursday before holding fresh rallies in the Armenian capital on Friday and Sunday. The U.S.-born leader, who was the official runner-up in the presidential 18 ballot, already staged post-election demonstrations in Gyumri and Vanadzor late last month.
Speaking to journalists earlier in the day, Hovannisian dismissed suggestions that he lacks a clear plan of actions that would force the Armenian authorities to invalidate the official vote results or make other major concessions. He said such misgivings about his opposition movement should disappear after his March 10 rally in Liberty Square.
Speaking at Tuesday’s rally, Hovannisian similarly assured supporters that Sunday will see a “breakthrough” in the realization of his post-election “program.” He did not elaborate.
Hovannisian also stated that other political forces opposed to the Sarkisian government are welcome to join his movement. So far only one major party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), has done that.
Speaking at the rally, Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, implied that Sarkisian’s resignation is not a realistic goal at this point. “If we do not succeed in taking power fully and at once, that should not disappoint us. That should drive us to come to power gradually, step by step.”
Rustamian added that victory in municipal elections in Yerevan slated for May would be “the first stage” in that gradual struggle. The “popular movement” led by Hovannisian should have a clear leadership structure in order to contest those elections, he said.
The Armenian authorities insist that Sarkisian was the legitimate winner of the presidential election, rejecting Hovannisian’s demands for a rerun of the ballot. Sarkisian’s political allies have shrugged off his calls for the incumbent president to come to Liberty Square and recognize “the people’s victory” on Tuesday.