Opposition Parties Agree to Join Forces

YEREVAN(RFE/RL)–Armenia’s main opposition parties said late Thursday that they have agreed to form a united front against President Robert Kocharian. They remained vague about specific joint actions ahead of next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

Ending several days of confidential talks–opposition leaders said they will form a "pre-election grouping" that will strive to remove Kocharian from power by jointly putting forward a presidential candidate–though it remains unclear who the candidate might be.

The intensive consultations were launched earlier this week by the country’s biggest left-wing opposition forces: the People’s Party (HZhK)–Hanrapetutyun–National Accord and the Communists. Representatives of several center-right parties–including the National Democratic Union (AZhM) who joined HZhK’s initiative Thursday.

As the talks drew to a close late in the evening–the opposition leaders said they agreed on the main points of a declaration calling for a joint effort to bring about "change of Armenia’s leadership." They said the declaration will be made public some time next week.

There appeared–however–to be little movement on the key question of a single opposition candidate for the February presidential elections. The opposition said no concrete candidates have been discussed yet. According to a leader of the Hanrapetutyun party–former prime minister Aram Sarkisian–the decision is likely to be made by the end of this year or in the immediate run-up to the polls.

The ambitious leader of the National Accord party–Artashes Geghamian had previously stated that he will run for president regardless of whether or not his candidacy is endorsed by the other major opposition forces. According to some reports–Geghamian initiated the latest multi-partisan negotiations in the hope of securing opposition endorsement of his presidential bid.

But Geghamian is known to be distrusted by other prominent opposition figures–including the HZhK’s popular chairman–Stepan Demirchian. At a news conference earlier on Thursday–another Hanrapetutyun leader–Albert Bazeyan–clearly admitted the existence of differences inside the divided opposition camp But said he is confident that the newly formed grouping will eventually develop into an electoral alliance.

Bazeyan also ruled out the possibility of former president Levon Ter-Petrosian becoming the single candidate–arguing that many opposition parties remain highly critical of him.

Some of Ter-Petrosian’s close associates told RFE/RL earlier this month that the ex-president is unlikely to stand in the February elections unless he is backed by a broad range of political forces.

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