By Hrach Melkumian
The top three opposition candidates in the Armenian presidential election campaign on Thursday effectively ruled out the possibility of withdrawing from the race in support of each other.
Stepan Demirchian, Vazgen Manukian and Artashes Geghamian indicated that they will contest the polls on their own, all but ending speculation about a two-horse race between President Robert Kocharian and a single opposition hopeful.
“If we are to save our homeland and change the regime, we can do so only by rallying around Artashes Geghamian,” Geghamian’s campaign manager, Aleksan Karapetian, told RFE/RL. Karapetian said all other opposition candidates have their “weak sides” and should endorse Geghamian.
Manukian said efforts by various opposition parties to agree on a single candidate are leading nowhere. “I don’t think that the negotiations are yielding serious results,” he said. “So I can only go to the end.”
Demirchian, who is seen as having better chances of victory, is even more unlikely to bow out. He said he will not be very upset if the two other hopefuls refuse endorse him before the February 9 deadline for the campaign withdrawals.
The three opposition politicians, who have had two busy weeks of campaigning, were due to meet and discuss the matter later in the day. Two other opposition candidates, Communist leader Vladimir Darpinian and Garnik Markarian of the Socialist Armenia bloc, are widely expected to quite in Geghamian’s favor.
Demirchian, for his part, is counting on the support of another contender, former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian. He could also win the endorsement of Raffi Hovannisian, the popular former foreign minister.
Demirchian expressed confidence that the presidential ballot will require a run-off between Kocharian and his most popular challenger. The first round of voting, he said, will solve the question of a single opposition candidate.
Kocharian, however, is aiming for a first-round landslide win.