Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian has promised to end his hunger strike and resume trips to provinces as part of his continuing protests against official results of last month’s presidential election.
Addressing thousands of his supporters at another rally in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Friday, Hovannisian, who has been on a hunger strike since March 10, said he would quit his protest on Sunday, March 31, which is observed as Easter by the Armenian Apostolic Church and many other Christians.
He also said he will continue visiting towns and villages across Armenia in another effort to drum up regional support for his ‘peaceful revolution of greetings’, or Barevolution, launched in the wake of what the opposition claims was a fraudulent ballot on February 18.
The 53-year-old United States-born politician, who had earlier pledged to bring change to Armenia literally at the cost of his life, said to his supporters: “I was ready to die, but I will prefer living in the name of the future of my Motherland.”
Hovannisian said he will continue his struggle until April 9 when President Serzh Sarkisian, whose victory he disputes, is due to be sworn in for a second five-year term.
Sarkisian officially polled more than 58 percent of the vote in the elections in which Hovannisian finished second with nearly 37 percent. Despite the mainly positive assessment of the elections by international observers and congratulations that Sarkisian had received on his reelection from virtually all Western leaders as well as from Russia, Hovannisian refused to recognize the legitimacy of the vote that he claimed had been rigged in favor of the incumbent.
The opposition leader and his team already traveled throughout Armenia in early March, making calls for several regional governors and mayors affiliated with Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) to resign because of their involvement in electoral fraud and other alleged violations.
Hovannisian said he will visit some of the same places again to put more pressure on local leaders after which he plans to stage another rally in Yerevan on April 5. He said he will decide on his further actions at that rally after consulting the people.
Earlier this week, President Sarkisian urged Hovannisian to end his hunger strike, recover ‘for a day or two’ and engage in a political dialogue on ways to end the post-election standoff. He did not say, however, whether he was ready to meet all or any of his challenger’s demands, including early parliamentary elections and several key posts in the future government.
At the same time, through his spokesperson, Sarkisian again ruled out a meeting in Liberty Square, while Hovannisian explicitly refused to be hosted at the presidential office for more post-election talks.
It is not clear yet in what form the dialogue between the two leaders will continue and whether Hovannisian will now agree to go to the presidential compound for a meeting before Sarkisian’s inauguration.
On several occasions during his Barevolution campaign the opposition leader said that in any case “a new Armenia will be sworn in” on April 9. He did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) earlier on Friday, Deputy Parliament Speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, who is also a spokesman for the HHK, said that “the ball is now in Hovannisian’s court”.
“We have always espoused a political dialogue, but we have never been prepared to satisfy the whims of one political figure or another,” Sharmazanov said, adding that the president’s proposal to Hovannisian still remained valid.