Former Ruling Party Drops Out of Parliamentary Elections

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The former ruling Armenian National Movement announced on Monday that it will effectively boycott next weeks parliamentary elections, a move which its leaders hope will reduce the confusing abundance of opposition contenders in the race. The ANM chairman, Ararat Zurabian, and his deputy Aram Manukian said the now small party, which governed Armenia from 1990-98, will contest the elections only with two candidates running for parliament in single-mandate constituencies. They also urged supporters to go to the polls and vote for real opposition forces that reject any compromise with the countrys present leadership and have a liberal orientation. At least 20 of 25 parties registered for the elections are in opposition or claim to be in opposition, said Manukian. We believe that it is impossible to effect regime change in this way. Our step is an appeal to real opposition forces to follow suit and leave only one or two [opposition] parties in the race, he told journalists. We think that there are other political forces that will follow our example, Zurabian said, for his part. They will thereby enable a particular opposition force to do well and have a solid presence in parliament. Although neither ANM leader named that force, the former ruling party is understood to be pinning its hopes on the radical Republic Party of Aram Sarkisian, whose party maintains close ties with the ANM and allies of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, notably the Impeachment bloc. Republic and Impeachment have agreed to embark on a joint campaign of street protests in Yerevan later this week. In other opposition news, Aram Sarkisian, launched a blistering attack on two other prominent opposition figures on Monday, saying that their personal ambitions thwarted his attempts to unite the Armenian opposition. Campaigning in the eastern Gegharkunik region, he said Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian, President Robert Kocharians main challengers in the last presidential election, are not committed to regime change and would settle for a handful of seats in the next Armenian parliament. They are taking care of their five percent objectives. All they want is to enter parliament, Sarkisian told more than two hundred supporters in Vartenis, a small town near the eastern coast of Lake Sevan. He was referring to the minimum percentage of votes needed by parties to win parliament seats under the system of proportional representation. The Republic party leader has until now avoided naming politicians who he believes are responsible for the failure of his attempts earlier this year to form a broad-based opposition bloc. He was particularly critical of Geghamian. When you say, Guys, lets unite and draft a single proportional list, Geghamian says, No, going together is not good, said Sarkisian. Why? Because he is solving the issue of 5 percent to keep going to Strasbourg and coming here and saying, People, Ive saved your honor. If you, Stepan Demirchian and Artashes Geghamian, cant figure out who should be the first and second [on a single proportional list,] toss a coin and close the issue, he added to rapturous applause from the crowd. Sarkisian, Demirchian and Geghamian had already joined forces in a bid to unseat Kocharian with a campaign of street protests in Yerevan three years ago. The two-month campaign ended in failure.

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