Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian all but confirmed on Thursday his participation in Armenia’s forthcoming presidential election which he said must be the most democratic in the country’s history.
The U.S.-born chairman of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, a major opposition group, presented the main points of what looked like a campaign manifesto in a speech delivered at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), a think-tank founded by him.
“I will spend the next 100 days forming a convincing civil candidacy for the presidency of the modern state of ancient Armenia,” Hovannisian said. In that context, he did not rule out the possibility of withdrawing from the race in favor of another opposition candidate.
Hovannisian was widely expected to stand as a candidate in the February 2013 election even before this carefully worded announcement. In a move which Zharangutyun representatives linked with the ballot, he said earlier this month that he will not take up one of the five parliament seats which Zharangutyun won together with another opposition party in May.
Hovannisian, who had served as Armenia’s first foreign minister while being a U.S. citizen, was controversially barred from contesting the last two presidential elections held in 2003 and 2008. The then authorities in Yerevan argued that he was granted Armenian citizenship only in 2001, more than a decade after immigrating from the United States.
Under Armenia’s constitution, only those individuals who have been Armenian citizens and resided in the country for at least ten years preceding an election can be registered as presidential candidates. Hovannisian and his supporters believe that successive Armenian governments deliberately delayed his naturalization to keep him from running for president.
In his speech, Hovannisian said Armenia’s next president must strive to establish the rule of law, separate big business from government and enact a new constitution that would turn the country into a parliamentary republic. He also reaffirmed his hard line on Azerbaijan and Turkey, saying that Yerevan must formally recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state and demanding that Ankara not only recognize the Armenian genocide but also pay Armenians a “substantial compensation.”
The Zharangutyun leader further stated that Armenia must become less reliant on Russia and seek membership of the European Union. “The Republic must cherish its sovereignty become a real promoter of strategic balance in the region and the world,” he said. “It must rebuild its inappropriately vertical relations with the Russian Federation to achieve a horizontal level based on real strategic cooperation and mutual respect and to diversify its foreign policy directions with separate but equally important ties with the CSTO and NATO, China and India, improved Georgia and renewed Iran and the greater Middle East.”