By Armen Zakarian and Harry Tamrazian
It appears that no faction or bloc of the new Armenian parliament is immune from splitting up, even the main opposition. Vazgen Manukian, a leading member of the opposition Artarutiun parliamentary bloc, said earlier this week that Artarurtiun head Stepan Demirchian was a convenient rival for President Robert Kocharian in the February prsidential election, while he himself could have posed a more serious challenge to the incumbent president.
Manukian placed fifth in the first round of the presidential ballot, after which he endorsed Stepan Demirchian as the opposition candidate in the runoff against Kocharian. Manukian now claims that Dashnaktsutiun would not have thrown its support behind Kocharian so unconditionally if Manukian had been chosen as the single opposition candidate.
The leader of the Dashnaktsutiun faction, which is a junior partner in the ruling government coalition, rejected Manukian's claim, however. Although Dashnaktsutiun rallied behind Vazgen Manukian when he was running against then President Levon Ter-Petrosian in the 1996 presidential elections, it switched to fully support Robert Kocharian for a good reason, Levon Mkrtychian said. "We took our position in 1998 and have been participating in political processes with that clear position since then."
Senior Artarutiun member Grigor Harutiunian downplayed the differences, saying that at the end of the day the parliamentary bloc could always overcome differences if needed. Harutiunian said that he has not spoken with Vazgen Manukian since the latter's statement, but that he personally believes that Demirchian was a very inconvenient rival for President Kocharian.
Another opposition leader, Victor Dallakian, also downplayed the significance of Manukian's statement, resolutely denying that there is a split within the opposition. There is no problem in Artarutiun, said Dallakian, who is an outspoken critic of Robert Kocharian. Dallakian shifted the topic of discussion, coming out with a strongly worded statement condemning the government's decision to deny registration to the Hnchakian party. "It was a political vendetta against Hnchakian, a party that was founded in 1887," Dallakian said.
Other faction leaders, including representatives of the ruling coalition, similarly criticized the Justice Ministry decision to deny registration to the Hnchakian party.
The new law on political parties requires that all parties seek re-registration, and so far, only Hnchakian has been denied reregistration. The 116 year-old party is one of the oldest in Armenian history. Hnchakian was active in the Middle East and United States. After the collapse of Soviet Union, the party opened an office in Yerevan in 1992. The party supported former President Ter-Petrosian, and in 1995 Hnchakian party members were elected to the parliament as a partner in the pro-presidential Republic parliament bloc. But Hnchakian never succeeded in attracting a large number of new members in Armenia.