By Astghik BedevianOpposition leader Stepan Demirchian said on Wednesday that he will not stand in the upcoming presidential election and urged his People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) to campaign for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian instead.
The HZhK’s governing Council agreed to the proposed endorsement of Ter-Petrosian after an apparently heated debate that lasted for over two hours. The decision came as a major boost to Ter-Petrosian’s efforts to muster broad-based opposition support for his presidential candidacy, even if it still needs to be approved by the HZhK’s larger Board.
Ruzan Khachatrian, a party spokeswoman, cautioned that a board approval is not a forgone conclusion. She said the Board will meet to discuss the matter later this month or early next.
“Nobody can guarantee that the board will endorse the decision,” Khachatrian told RFE/RL. “There will definitely be calls, especially by party representatives from the regions, for Stepan Demirchian to run for president. It is very hard for us to support another candidate.”
Demirchian and his late father Karen contested Armenia’s two previous presidential elections and claimed to have been robbed of victory by President Robert Kocharian. Their strong performances turned the HZhK into the most popular opposition force. The center-left party has lost much of its popularity in recent years, failing to win a single parliament seat in last May’s legislative elections. But it still claims to have tens of thousands of members.
According to Khachatrian, Demirchian told HZhK council members that unlike Ter-Petrosian, he can no longer build an opposition coalition around his presidential bid and would therefore stand no chance of defeating Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. She quoted Demirchian as also arguing that Ter-Petrosian is ready to admit mistakes committed by his administration. Some council members remained unconvinced, urging their leader to have another shot at the presidency, she said.
Ter-Petrosian underlined the importance he attaches to securing the HZhK’s backing on November 1 when he visited the party headquarters in downtown Yerevan to meet dozens of party activists and answer their questions. He also made a point of visiting an adjacent museum dedicated to Karen Demirchian, Armenia’s popular Soviet-era leader assassinated in the October 1999 attack on parliament.
The parliament killings were a major theme of Ter-Petrosian’s lengthy speech at an October 26 rally in Yerevan. Echoing the lingering suspicions of the late Demirchian’s relatives and supporters, Ter-Petrosian effectively implicated Kocharian in orchestrating the killings.
(Photolur photo: Ter-Petrosian pictured during the visit to the HZhK headquarters.)