By Anna Saghabalian
Stepan Demirchian is ready to withdraw from the unfolding presidential race in favor of another candidate capable of unseating Armenia’s current leadership, a close associate of the once popular opposition leader said on Wednesday.
According to Grigor Harutiunian, Demirchian and his People’s Party (HZhK) remain strongly committed to the idea of the country’s main opposition parties fielding a joint candidate for the presidential elections due early next year.
“The top priority is the consolidation of the opposition around any [potentially] victorious candidate,” he said.
Demirchian was President Robert Kocharian’s main challenger in the last presidential election held in 2003 and still considers himself the rightful winner of the vote marred by reports of serious fraud. His popularity with the disgruntled electorate has plummeted since then, resulting in the HZhK’s dramatic failure to win a single parliament seat in Armenia’s recent parliamentary elections. Few observers now think that Demirchian can be a major contender in the upcoming presidential ballot.
Harutiunian, who is the number two figure in the HZhK, declined to name any opposition leader with presidential ambitions who can count on Demirchian’s backing. But he pointedly declined to rule out the possibility of HZhK support for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, who is considering running for president after nearly a decade of self-imposed political retirement.
“We appreciate Levon Ter-Petrosian’s experience, which can serve as a consolidating factor,” Harutiunian told reporters. “But let us not talk too much about that because Levon Ter-Petrosian himself hasn’t said anything [on his participation in the elections] yet.”
Harutiunian confirmed that Demirchian and Ter-Petrosian held what may have been their first-ever one-on-one meeting recently. “They discussed their positions and expressed concerns regarding the situation in the country,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian had been meeting with his loyalists, supporters and various opposition figures for the past several weeks to gauge the extent of popular support for his presidential run. Aides say he has not yet decided whether to enter the fray.
In Harutiunian’s words, Demirchian’s participation in the election as a candidate is also a possibility. “Is he ready to go it alone? We’ll talk about that when the right time comes,” he said. “I just want to emphasize that we have experience in acting alone and can repeat it.”