By Hrach Melkumian
The opposition People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) gave on Friday more indications of its intention to put forward its popular leader, Stepan Demirchian, as a candidate in next year’s presidential election.
A conference of the party’s largest branch in central Yerevan unanimously decided that Demirchian should run for president regardless of the opinion of other major opposition forces that hope to field a single candidate against President Robert Kocharian. The move made such a possibility even less likely.
The National Unity party, which forms a loose coalition with the HZhK and 14 other parties, has already nominated its ambitious leader, Artashes Geghamian, for the Armenian presidency. Geghamian has made it clear that he will not withdraw his candidacy in favor of any other opposition leader.
Demirchian is increasingly likely to adopt the same approach, as more and more HZhK branches urge him to join the presidential race. A final decision on the issue will be taken at the party’s November 2 congress.
“I am conscious of the responsibility lying on me,” Demirchian told HZhK activists in Yerevan. He urged them to prepare for a “resolute fight against any attempts [by Kocharian] to distort real election results.” Demirchian warned that unlike his late father, Karen Demirchian, he will not shy away from unleashing a campaign of mass protests against electoral fraud.
“The fact that Karen Demirchian did not escalate the situation at the time…must not give the authorities reason to believe that the same while happen again,” he said, referring to the disputed 1998 presidential election.
Official results of the two-round election gave victory to Kocharian. Karen Demirchian, who was assassinated in the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament, said the vote was falsified and never conceded defeat.
Meanwhile, a leader of another major opposition party, Hanrapetutyun, said on Friday that the 16-party alliance may still succeed in agreeing on a joint presidential candidate. Speaking to RFE/RL, Albert Bazeyan did not rule out the possibility of all but one opposition contenders withdrawing from the race on the eve of the voting.