In what was his first public speech in six months delivered over the weekend, opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian declined to clarify whether he will run in Armenia’s upcoming presidential election.
“Please wait for a couple of more days,” Ter-Petrosian told a congress of the HHSh, the largest of the parties of making up his Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance.
“I have appealed to all big powers: America, China, Russia, the European Union. Until I secure their approval I will not be able to give you my answer. They are now fretting over their strategy. They have promised to answer me in two days time,” he said jokingly.
The HAK leader, who served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, made no election-related announcements as of Monday evening.
Ter-Petrosian was widely expected to end the lingering uncertainty over his political future at the HHSh congress. He had kept a low profile since the HAK’s most recent rally that was held in Yerevan in late June.
Ter-Petrosian, who was the main opposition candidate in the last Armenian presidential election, shed no light on his political plans in his latest speech, however. Most of it was devoted to criticism of unnamed Armenian politicians and parties that the HAK leader said are seeking foreign assistance in the domestic struggle for power.
“Neither America nor Russia can ever create a leader in Armenia and make him president,” said Ter-Petrosian. “Some people think that if they cut some deals with external forces they will become leaders here. No, you must first become a leader here before they will reckon with you abroad.” It was not clear to whom he referred.
Top Ter-Petrosian aides have made no secret of his hopes to form an anti-government electoral alliance with Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a former member of the country’s governing coalition. Tsarukian looked to set to become President Serzh Sarkisian’s main election challenger until his unexpected withdrawal from the presidential race earlier this month. The development left Ter-Petrosian under greater pressure from HAK members to make yet another presidential bid.
Babken Ararktsian, a former parliament speaker and longtime Ter-Petrosian associate, said on Saturday that the ex-president should join the race despite being less popular than in 2008. He said Ter-Petrosian is capable of again winning over many Armenians unhappy with the government.
Aram Manukian, the HHSh chairman, claimed that Ter-Petrosian is likely to contest the election slated for February 18. “Do not exclude any theoretical thing, but I repeat that processes are leading to [Ter-Petrosian’s] nomination,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) when asked about the possibility of an HAK boycott of the ballot.
Levon Zurabian, Ter-Petrosian’s right-hand man leading the HAK’s parliamentary faction, was more far more careful in commenting on the widely anticipated decision. Zurabian said that in any case the parties aligned in the HAK will be free to decide whom to support.
One of those parties, Azatutyun (Freedom), on Monday formally nominated its leader, Hrant Bagratian, for the presidency. Bagratian, who served as prime minister from 1993-1996, indicated that he will accept the nomination.
Bagratian said late last week that he would like to run for president if Ter-Petrosian decides not to enter the fray. He was less categorical on that score on Monday.
“I have an excellent rapport with President Ter-Petrosian, and I don’t think we will ever have problems by standing in each other’s way. I have no such intention,” he told Azatutyun delegates. “But life is moving on and there are new realities.”
The ex-premier added that his main goal is to consolidate “liberal” opposition groups and present them as a credible alternative to the Sarkisian administration.
Some of those groups split from the HAK earlier this year in protest against the bloc’s readiness to cooperate with Tsarukian’s BHK. Bagratian has also objected to such cooperation.