Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian on Friday reaffirmed his intention to declare himself Armenia’s president on Tuesday and urged supporters to attend his “inauguration” in Yerevan’s Liberty Square in droves.
Holding a fresh rally in the square, he again warned President Serzh Sarkisian against being sworn in for a second term on that day. “Woe to those who will take a false oath on April 9. We will not forgive them,” he declared.
Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) dismissed the warning and Hovannisian’s plans to press ahead with the alternative inauguration.
The Armenian president will take the oath of office on April 9 at a special session of the National Assembly that will also be attended by hundreds of other dignitaries. The inauguration will be held in accordance with the official results of the February 18 presidential election that gave him victory with about 59 percent of the vote.
Hovannisian, who finished second with over 37 percent, rejects these results as fraudulent and claims to be the rightful winner of the ballot. He has been challenging them with a nationwide campaign of street protests.
The California native heading the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party on Friday again urged Armenians from all over the country to converge on Liberty Square, attend the “proclamation and inauguration of a new Armenia” and “flush out these dirty authorities” on April 9. “We will be coming with families and friends full of confidence ... We will jointly take the oath,” he said.
Hovannisian said the ceremony will be followed by daylong demonstrations in the capital. He did not clarify whether the crowd led by him will march to the presidential palace.
The opposition leader also warned the authorities against blocking roads leading to Yerevan to keep residents of Armenian regions from joining his April 9 rallies. They must also refrain from deploying army and special police units, he said.
Hovannes Sahakian, a senior lawmaker from the ruling HHK, indicated that the authorities will not impede the planned rallies so long as they do not degenerate into an opposition attempt to “usurp power.” He also scoffed at the ceremony planned by Hovannisian.
“Whose president will they be inaugurating?” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Assume that they declare him president and put in a nice chair for him to sit on it … That cannot have legal consequences. That cannot have a future,” he said.
The authorities insist that the February ballot was the most democratic in Armenia’s history. They point to its largely positive assessment by Western election observers and congratulatory messages sent to Sarkisian by virtually all major Western leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama.
Hovannisian has indicated in recent weeks that he is ready to stop challenging Sarkisian’s reelection if the latter agrees to call snap parliamentary elections this year and appoint opposition figures to a number of key government positions. While describing most of these proposals as unconstitutional, Sarkisian has expressed readiness to meet his main election challenger to discuss them. The two leaders continue to disagree on the venue of such a meeting.
Hovannisian on Friday appealed to other major opposition groups to join his key protests. “He who is with the people will be here on April 9 at noon,” he said.
The Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) declined to comment on this appeal. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another opposition force represented in the parliament, said it will announce on Monday whether it will join Hovannisian’s “inauguration.”
Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, addressed Friday’s rally, reaffirming his party’s support for Hovannisian’s opposition movement. Still, Rustamian implied that Dashnaktsutyun does not regard Sarkisian’s resignation as a realistic objective. He said the Armenian opposition should now focus on forcing a “radical reform of the state system” and defeating the HHK in the upcoming mayoral elections in Yerevan.