By Astghik BedevianPolitical allies of Levon Ter-Petrosian were confident on Wednesday that Armenia’s former president will after all decide to participate in the approaching presidential elections. They also brushed aside President Robert Kocharian’s warning that Ter-Petrosian should stay away from politics or face renewed scrutiny of his controversial track record.
“Levon Ter-Petrosian’s nomination [as a presidential candidate] is irreversible. That is, it will definitely happen,” said Ararat Zurabian, chairman of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), the former ruling party of the ex-president is the unofficial top leader.
“As the first president said, he has not yet made a final decision [to contest the vote,]” Zurabian told reporters. “But I believe things are moving towards that decision.”
In his first public speech in nearly a decade, Ter-Petrosian told hundreds of supporters that he has still not decided whether to seek a return to power. Still, his blistering attack on Armenia’s “corrupt and criminal” leadership prompted suggestions that he is leaning towards a presidential run.
Aram Sarkisian, whose radical opposition Hanrapetutyun party also strongly backs Ter-Petrosian, made a similar point in an interview with RFE/RL. He claimed that Ter-Petrosian, who led Armenia to independence in 1991, is popular enough to return to power.
“Our contacts with the public show that a huge section of Armenia’s population thinks that if a prudent, pragmatic person like Ter-Petrosian … decides to stand, he will win,” said Sarkisian. “I am convinced that the day after the statement by the first president [on his nomination] scores of people will converge on the Yerevan square with flags,” he added.
Kocharian on Tuesday rejected Ter-Petrosian’s accusations and warned that his predecessor will become an “ordinary opposition politician” and risk a barrage of criticism if he chooses to stand in the presidential ballot. He said Armenians would be “reminded” of many shortcomings which they still associate with Ter-Petrosian’s 1990-1998 rule.
“All questions will get appropriate answers,” commented Zurabian.
“If they thought that their predecessors committed crimes they were obliged to go to court and hold those people accountable,” Sarkisian said for his part.
Both the HHSh and Hanrapetutyun regard Ter-Petrosian as the only politician capable of thwarting a planned handover of power from Kocharian to Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. They hope that other major opposition groups will also rally around the ex-president. But so far only one of them, the People’s Party (HZhK) of Stepan Demirchian, has been ready to consider doing that.
Demirchian, who was Kocharian’s main challenger in the last presidential election, denied on Wednesday some Ter-Petrosian associates’ claims that his endorsement of the ex-president is a forgone conclusion. “As long as the first president has not announced his nomination, the HZhK can not decide to support him,” he told RFE/RL.
Still, Demirchian made it clear that he has a high regard for Ter-Petrosian while agreeing with much of the criticism of Armenia’s former leadership. “Let us not forget that the country was at war then,” he said. “There were mistakes, very negative phenomena, manifestations of irresponsibility and impunity. But those negative phenomena are now much more deeply rooted in our life.”