Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leader of a coalition of Europe’s main conservative parties for welcoming President Serzh Sarkisian’s disputed reelection as he continued his hunger strike in Yerevan on Wednesday.
Hovannisian threatened to pull his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party out of the European People’s Party (EPP) in protest.
“Mr. Putin is mistaken,” he said in Russian at another improvised news conference held in the city’s Liberty Square.
He was reacting to Putin’s opening remarks at a meeting with Sarkisian held near Moscow on Tuesday. Putin again congratulated Sarkisian on his “convincing victory” in Armenia’s February 18 presidential election, saying that it testifies to “popular trust” in the Armenian leader.
“This is not how strategic partnership is done,” Hovannisian told journalists. “The Armenian people are demanding a real strategic relationship [with Russia] that is not based on lies, fraud fear and theft of the people’s vote.”
Hovannisian also commented on Sarkisian’s upcoming trip to Brussels during which he will attend an EPP summit in his capacity as the leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Both the HHK and Zharangutyun are affiliated with the pan-European grouping. Sarkisian is scheduled to meet with EPP President Wilfried Martens on Thursday.
Martens was one of the first Western leaders to “warmly” congratulate Sarkisian, saying that he prevailed in an election that was “mostly in line with international standards.” “I am confident that the country’s democratization process will be further enhanced under the leadership of President Sarkisian,” Martens wrote on a February 19.
Hovannisian, who considers himself the rightful election winner, said Martens’s “hasty congratulation” ran counter to European values and said Zharangutyun will consider withdrawing from the EPP. “If the EPP is to follow the path of fraud, then Zharangutyun and I will have nothing in common with the EPP,” he warned.
The U.S.-born candidate has been similarly critical of congratulatory letters sent to Sarkisian by U.S. President Barack Obama and the European Union leaders. Sarkisian’s political allies present those messages as further proof that the incumbent president won a second term fair and square.
Hovannisian began the hunger strike on Sunday as part of a campaign of protests against what he says are fraudulent official vote results. He warned that Sarkisian would be sworn in for a second term only “over my dead body.”
Hovannisian announced on Wednesday that he is withdrawing his compromise proposals rejected by the Armenian authorities. Those included the holding of a second round of voting or fresh parliamentary elections.
“I no longer have proposals,” the Zharangutyun leader said. “If Mr. Sarkisian has something to tell me about what he is going to do to solve this national problem I am ready to listen to his proposals and decide whether to accept or reject them.”
Sarkisian has expressed readiness to again receive his main election challenger and discuss post-election tensions in the country. Hovannisian insists that the president visit and talk to him at Liberty Square.