By Ruzanna Stepanian
Opposition leader Vazgen Manukian on Tuesday again ruled out the possibility of supporting former President Levon Ter-Petrosian in the forthcoming presidential election, saying that his longtime rival is not fundamentally different from Armenia’s current leaders.
“These authorities must go and that is inevitable,” he said. “But who should replace them? I fear that we would get more of the same [with Ter-Petrosian’s return to power.]”
Manukian, who himself plans to for run for president, indicated that he will not endorse Ter-Petrosian even if the February 19 election goes into a second round pitting the ex-president against Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. He expressed his readiness to back other opposition hopefuls and even the presidential candidate of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, a junior partner in the governing coalition.
“They are putting the people in a very difficult situation because the majority of the people do not accept either party,” Manukian told a news conference. “There are people who consider Levon Ter-Petrosian the lesser evil but there are also many, many people who consider Serzh Sarkisian the lesser evil. And I don’t exclude that if Levon Ter-Petrosian and Serzh Sarkisian go into the second round Serzh Sarkisian will emerge as a legitimate president.”
“I think [Ter-Petrosian] should not have nominated his candidacy in the first place,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian allies maintain, however, that independent Armenia’s first president is the only opposition politician capable of thwarting a handover of power from President Robert Kocharian to Sarkisian. They have been buoyed by relatively strong attendance at two rallies held by Ter-Petrosian in Yerevan in recent weeks.
Addressing the rallies, Ter-Petrosian subjected to harsh criticism the current “corrupt and criminal” authorities in Yerevan. He also appealed to other prominent oppositionists, including Manukian, for support, saying that he would serve as president only for three years.
Manukian rejected the call and reiterated his view that Ter-Petrosian himself is responsible for chronic vote rigging, human rights abuses, government corruption and other problems that have plagued Armenia. Predictably, he recalled Ter-Petrosian’s highly controversial victory in the September 1996 presidential election criticized as undemocratic by Western monitors.
Manukian was the main opposition presidential candidate at the time and has asserted all along that he was its rightful winner. “In 1996 [Ter-Petrosian] stole votes not from me but from you, the people,” he charged on Tuesday.
Ter-Petrosian, who ordered to troops the streets of Yerevan in 1996 to quell opposition protests against official vote results, insists that his reelection was “disputed” but not rigged.
The 1996 unrest was the culmination of mutual antipathy that Ter-Petrosian and Manukian developed during the first years of Armenia’s independence. The two former scholars became the top leaders of the 1988 movement for Armenia’s unification with Nagorno-Karabakh before jointly heading the country’s first post-Communist government in 1990.