By Karine KalantarianStepan Demirchian, the top leader of the increasingly moribund Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, insisted on Monday that the creation of a new broad-based opposition bloc is not imminent despite optimistic statements made by his erstwhile allies.
Demirchian said his People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), the largest of a dozen parties aligned in Artarutyun, is only discussing with various opposition forces ways of ensuring proper conduct of the upcoming parliamentary elections and may well contest them on it own.
“We have repeatedly pointed out that we are ready to participate in those elections separately,” he told RFE/RL in an interview. “On February 17, the HZhK will hold a regular congress and ascertain all questions regarding our participation. All I can say now is that we are not holding negotiations with any party on the formation of an alliance.”
Two other opposition heavyweights, Artashes Geghamian and Aram Sarkisian, claimed last week that such negotiations are underway. “I am really delighted with the current negotiations in terms of their quality and responses of opposition leaders,” Sarkisian said.
The three opposition leaders already joined forces nearly three years ago in an attempt to force President Robert Kocharian to step down with a campaign of demonstrations. Their personal relationships have been strained ever since the failure of the effort, with Sarkisian effectively pulling his radical Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party out of Artarutyun.
“We do not rule out formation of alliances, but at the moment there are no such negotiations,” insisted Demirchian. He said the HZhK will support “cooperation of opposition forces for the sake of democratic elections” in any case. In particular, he backed the idea of opposition parties fielding single candidates in all of Armenia’s 41 single-mandate electoral districts ahead of the May vote. The remaining 90 seats in the Armenian parliament will be distributed on the party list basis.
Like other opposition leaders, Demirchian was highly dismissive of government pledges to end Armenia’s history of electoral fraud, saying that the Kocharian administration will again do everything to hold on to power. “In order to reproduce itself, the regime is resorting to both vote buying and government levers,” he claimed.
In his New Year address to the nation, Kocharian said he is confident that the vote “will be held up to the mark.”