By Astghik BedevianArmenia’s leading opposition forces are holding negotiations on the possibility of forming new alliances ahead of next spring’s parliamentary elections, their leaders told RFE/RL on Monday.
Artashes Geghamian, the leader of the National Unity Party (AMK), indicated in particular that he is considering ways of teaming up with another opposition heavyweight, Stepan Demirchian, and his People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK).
“There have been some discussions on such possibility with the People’s Party,” he said. “We have primarily talked about doing everything to ensure that the upcoming elections are democratic and preventing falsifications.”
Geghamian declined to give further details, and HZhK leaders could not be immediately reached for comment.
Geghamian and Demirchian have had an uneasy personal rapport, falling out during the presidential elections of February-March 2003 when they were President Robert Kocharian’s main opposition challengers. The two men joined forces a year later to lead an ill-fated opposition attempt to force Kocharian into resignation with a campaign of street protests. The failure of the campaign opened a new rift between them.
It seemed to have deepened in May last year when Demirchian accused the outspoken AMK leader of lying about his late father and the HZhK’s founder, Karen Demirchian. Geghamian was quick to try to mend fences with his Demirchian at the time. It is not yet clear if the two leaders are prepared to again have another, more radical oppositionist, Aram Sarkisian of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, on board.
Sarkisian claimed that he is also involved in the ongoing talks. “Formation of alliances is always much easier ahead of elections,” he said. “I am really delighted with the current negotiations in terms of their quality and responses of opposition leaders.”
Sarkisian added that the talks have so far focused on the nomination of single opposition candidates in all of Yerevan’s 15 electoral districts. He would not be drawn on chances of a new broad-based opposition alliance emerging soon in place of the largely moribund Artarutyun (Justice) led by Demirchian.
Meanwhile, there is also growing talk of another major electoral alliance that could be led by former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and the former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh’s army, Samvel Babayan. Among their potential allies is the Union for Constitutional Rights (SIM), a small opposition party affiliated with Artarutyun. Its new leader, Hayk Babukhanian, on Monday did not rule out the possibility of the SIM joining forces with Baghdasarian’s and Babayan’s ambitious parties in the run-up to the elections.
Babukhanian dismissed speculation that the latter maintain secret ties with President Robert Kocharian. “If they don’t support the current authorities, then they are in opposition,” he said.
(Photolur photo: Demirchian, left, Geghamian, center, and Sarkisian leading an opposition demonstration in Yerevan in April 2004.)