By Shakeh Avoyan
Opposition leader Artashes Geghamian renewed on Friday strong attacks on his former allies led by Stepan Demirchian, accusing them of political immaturity and dirty tricks which he said damaged his presidential run this year.
The allegations threaten to reinvigorate the rift between Geghamian’s National Unity Party and Armenia’s largest opposition alliance led by Demirchian, the runner-up in the hotly disputed presidential election. The two political groups papered over their post-election mutual antagonism recently, trying to coordinate their initiatives in parliament.
In a thinly veiled reference to Demirchian, Geghamian claimed that hundreds of thousands of leaflets were distributed across Armenia on the eve of the February 19 first round of voting saying that he has pulled out of the race and urging people to vote for “another opposition candidate.” “At first we naively thought that it was a government conspiracy,” he told a National Unity conference. “Alas, we were wrong.”
According to the official vote tally, Geghamian placed in the first round, winning just over 17 percent of the vote and trailing Demirchian and incumbent President Robert Kocharian. Geghamian alleged massive fraud, hinting at one point that he won more votes than even Demirchian. He pointedly refused to endorse the latter for the March 5 run-off, leading other top oppositionists to suspect him of secretly collaborating with the authorities. Some of them claim that he sold National Unity seats in the electoral bodies to the Kocharian camp ahead of the second round.
Geghamian again sought to dispel that suspicion with fresh calls for Kocharian’s ouster. He claimed that he feared for his life during the presidential race and was forced by his aides to wear a flak jacket on several occasions.
Still, he went on to ridicule the Demirchian-led Artarutyun bloc’s tactics of “fruitless rallies” against widespread irregularities reported during the elections. He said Artarutyun leaders should have instead embraced “anti-crisis program” unveiled a year ago.
Geghamian hoped at the time to rally Armenia’s diverse opposition parties around his presidential bid. However, most of them chose to fall in behind Demirchian.