By Armen Zakarian
President Robert Kocharian hit back on Saturday at the opposition efforts to force him into resignation with the announcement that he will seek a second five-year term in office at the next presidential election due in early 2003. Picking up the gauntlet thrown down the previous day by Armenia’s three leading opposition parties, Kocharian said their concerted assault has only helped him make a final decision to run for reelection.
In am extraordinary joint statement, the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) and the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) and National Accord parties urged on Friday lawmakers to begin impeachment proceedings against the head of state, accusing him of mismanaging the country and secretly supporting the jailed perpetrators of the 1999 killings in the parliament. They claimed that he stands in the way of Armenia’s development.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to a Yerevan factory, Kocharian condemned the “malicious” opposition statement. He said: “When I was being asked if I will be standing in the presidential elections, I was giving very uncertain answers or trying to duck such questions because I was really undecided. After that statement I made up my mind and am now saying that I will stand.”
“There is so much malice in the statement,” Kocharian added. “People with so much malice endanger the country by seeking power. A poisoned leader would not fail to poison the country.”
The three anti-presidential parties, moving one step closer to forming an alliance, accused Kocharian of repeatedly violating the Armenian constitution, sponsoring “terrorism,” pursuing a “criminal economic policy” and fostering corruption. “Being incapable of creative work, the president is resorting to political intrigues, in a bid to split and divide political parties,” their statement charged.
A senior member of Hanrapetutyun, Ghukas Ulikhanian, told RFE/RL that opposition deputies on Monday will begin collecting signatures in the parliament in support of the impeachment. But with the three opposition parties holding less than 20 seats in the 131-member National Assembly, the initiative is unlikely to succeed. Parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian on Saturday spoke out against impeaching Kocharian, arguing that continued political stability is vital for Armenia.
Under the Armenian constitution, the president can be removed from office if the Constitutional Court convicts him of high treason or “other grave crimes.” Such a ruling has to be approved by at least two thirds of the deputies. Most members of the current assembly are loyal to the 47-year-old Armenian leader.
Kocharian’s announcement is seen as marking the start of his preparations for the 2003 elections. The opposition leaders say one of the purposes of their rapprochement is to put forward a single candidate who would have much better chances of defeating the incumbent president. But it is not clear yet who could take on that role.
Kocharian was elected president in March 1998, shortly after he and the country’s key ministers forced the previous president, Levon Ter-Petrossian, to step down. The opposition statement said the victory was achieved by fraudulent means.