Raffi Hovannisian, the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party chairman, on Friday officially confirmed his participation in Armenia’s forthcoming presidential election and urged other opposition leaders to rally around his candidacy.
“I am declaring today the nomination of my candidacy for the forthcoming presidential election,” Hovannisian said at what was supposed to be a news conference. “I am doing this as a citizen of the Republic of Armenia who has responsibility and the will, shares the blame for the existing situation and wants to help overcome and sort it out.”
Hovannisian expressed hope that he will be the Armenian opposition’s main candidate to challenge President Serzh Sarkisian in the election slated for February. He urged major opposition groups as well as civic activists and other public figures to back his first-ever presidential bid. “I will be a presidential candidate only once and never again,” he said.
The U.S.-born politician, who served as Armenia’s first foreign minister in 1991-1992, refused to answer any questions, promising to talk to journalists next week.
Zharangutyun teamed up with another opposition party, the Free Democrats, to participate in this year’s parliamentary elections. Official election results showed them winning just over 5 percent of the vote and gaining 5 seats in the 131-member National Assembly.
Hovannisian was widely expected to run for president even before Friday’s announcement. He 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.
Hovannisian, 53, presented what looked like a campaign manifesto in a speech delivered in Yerevan in September. He 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.