Kocharian Pledges Free Fair Elections

YEREVAN (Yerevan News Agency)–Acting Armenian President Robert Kocharian met with more than 100 local and international reporters Wednesday–after he assumed the role of interim leader–and pledged his commitment to free and fair elections–which under Armenia’s constitution must be held within 40 days.

In brief commen’s before fielding questions from reporters–Kocharian stated that all bodies of Armenia’s government were functioning normally and all developmen’s in the country’s political life were proceeding according to the constitution.

He stated that per the constitution–elections will take place in Armenia and pledged that the polls will be free and fair.

Kocharian also stated that all economic programs were continuing in their normal pace and Armenia remained true to all international agreemen’s and conventions signed by the previous administration.

He pledged his continued support for a peaceful resolution to the 10-year-old Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and stated that negotiations with the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe would continue.

The interim leader also stated that positive mechanisms should be created for those who have resigned their positions–in order that the lives of those individuals are not threatened and their confidence in the country’s leadership is not challenged.

Kocharian assumed the country’s leadership following the resignation of National Assembly speaker Babken Ararktsian who–according to the constitution–was second in line to power. Levon Ter-Petrosyan resigned Tuesday during a televised speech–after weeks of mounting pressure from opposing camps and one-time political allies. The peaceful change in leadership is being viewed positively from a majority of Armenian political circles.

In his responses to more than 30 questions–Kocharian maintained the political decorum and discussed a wide-ranging array of issues.

In discussing Ter-Petrosyan’s resignation speech from a day earlier–Kocharian said he believed that Ter-Petrosyan used a word improperly when saying "well-know bodies of the leadership had called for" his resignation.

"Levon Ter-Petrosyan–himself–proposed two approaches for emerging from the crisis–and we have chosen this approach. Thus the word `called,’ was not very appropriate," explained Kocharian.

The new leader added that he would be taking on the responsibilities of the president until new elections–stressing that in that interim period he did not foresee major changes in the Karabakh question–about which he and Ter-Petrosyan disagreed on the "consolidated" and "phased" approaches respectively.

Kocharian explained that changes should not be expected in Armenia’s foreign policy doctrine–especially the policy on Karabakh–since foreign policy is devised by the president–thus the administration emerging from the upcoming elections would be determinant of foreign policy.

He also explained that the appointment of a foreign minister was also the responsibility of the new president.

"The deputy foreign minister is an experienced official–and I a confident that in the upcoming two months–he will carry out the duties of outgoing foreign minister Alexander Arzoumanian," stated Kocharian.

Arzoumanian was among the slew of ministers who resigned prior to Ter-Petrosyan’s resignation Tuesday.

"Generally–in addressing the Karabakh question–every leader must exercise restraint and balance in formulating policy–since the question is not issue only for the leadership to decide–but rather an all-national issue–the resolution of which must emerge from the principles of popular accord," stated Kocharian.

In addressing other issues–Kocharian stated that in the near future the Armenian Revolutionary Federation would be officially reinstated in Armenia–"and with that this unnecessarily prolonged issue would come to an end."

Kocharian said that it was difficult for him to make a final announcement on the release from prison of ARF Executive Council of Armenia member Vahan Hovanessian and others–stating that the process must be looked into and the best approach must be decided.

"…is it [the release] possible to issue a pardon? Or are there other legal principles. I have already called on lawyers to look into this matter. I have been a friend of Vahan Hovanessian’s and I will do everything possible to ensure a quick resolution to the matter," stated Kocharian.

In discussing relations with Russia–Kocharian explained that the new leadership’s policies on Russia were evident–adding that Russian relations were strengthened through an agreement signed between the leaders of the two states in August 1997.

"If some people perceive that `tough’ people are assuming the leadership in Armenia–then they must be acquainted with those people’s traditions in establishing peace," remarked Kocharian in an apparent response to Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s earlier assessment of the changes in Armenia [see page one].

"Those `tough’ people–recognize–better than anyone–what war is–thus–naturally they will do everything to safeguard peace," added the acting president.

During the press conference–Kocharian abstained from announcing his presidential candidacy for the upcoming elections–informing that beginning Thursday political discussions were set to commence. "However–I can say–that most likely–my candidacy will not be announced."

Kocharian also said–"I–myself–don’t know whether I am a citizen of the Republic of Armenia. But–I know that I have been a delegate to the Armenian Supreme Soviet twice and a member of the presidium of that body. If you recall–during the 1990 elections–deputies were also elected from Nagorno-Karabakh. Aside from that–I believe–the December 1–1989 decision by the Armenian Supreme Soviet to reunite Karabakh with Armenia has never been reversed."

In other remarks–Kocharian said he believed that the resignation of Armenia’s Central Bank chairman Bagrat Assatryan stemmed purely from emotions–since the Central Bank should never be politicized.

Kocharian concluded by saying that Armenia’s government was not affiliated with any political party and was a grouping of professionals.

"During the past several months we have attempted to carry out serious economic reforms–and–now we are going to initiate reforms in the internal-political arena. Our goal is to realize the principle of national accord," stated Kocharian.

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