Ending months of speculation about his political future, Levon Ter-Petrosian, Armenia’s first president leading a key opposition group, announced on Tuesday that he will not make another bid to return to power in next February’s presidential election.
In an interview with the “Chorrord Inknishkhanutyun” daily, Ter-Petrosian did not voice support for any other presidential candidate. Nor did his Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance immediately make any statements on its election-related plans.
The HAK leader, who will turn 68 on January 9, cited his age as the main reason for his decision not to run in the election. “As far as I know, so far nobody has raised the question of whether a person respecting their own people can aspire to the post of president at the age of 68,” he said. “Such a thing usually does not happen in developed democratic countries.”
“Whatever you say, a 68-year-old person cannot be as energetic and prolific as those aged between 40 and 60, which is probably the optimal age for politicians aspiring to the post of president. Therefore, individuals younger than me should enter the arena,” he told the pro-HAK paper.
Ter-Petrosian said there is also another “insignificant and purely technical reason” for his decision. “But I don’t want to disclose it because very few will believe in it in our cynical reality,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian added that his withdrawal from the presidential race, anticipated by observers, will upset many of his supporters. “But I am sure that some time later my supporters will realize that my decision was honest and right,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian’s exit will further increase President Serzh Sarkisian’s chances of securing a second term in office. Sarkisian’s reelection prospects already received a massive boost earlier this month when his most popular potential challenger, Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian, unexpectedly pulled out of the race.
Ter-Petrosian claimed that Sarkisian will lack domestic legitimacy even if official results of the February 18 election give him a landslide victory. “Even in case of polling 100 percent [of the vote] Serzh Sarkisian will have as much legitimacy as Saddam Hussein, [Muammar] Gaddafi or the head of any other dictatorial country had,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian hoped that his HAK and Tsarukian’s BHK will join forces in trying to scuttle Sarkisian’s reelection bid. Some media commentators and other pundits believe that he was ready to go as far as to endorse Tsarukian’s presidential candidacy despite the BHK leader’s reputedly close ties to former President Robert Kocharian.
This strategy has led to growing divisions within the HAK, with some senior members of the opposition bloc openly objecting to any electoral alliance with Tsarukian. One of them, former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian, has frozen his ties with the HAK and plans to run for president. The HAK itself has yet to clarify whether it will endorse any opposition candidate or urge supporters to boycott the election.
Ter-Petrosian, who led Armenia to independence and governed it until 1998, was the main opposition candidate in the last presidential ballot held in February 2008. He made a dramatic political comeback at the time after a nearly decade-long silence.
Ter-Petrosian managed to attract a large following in late 2007 and early 2008 with harsh anti-government rhetoric. Tens of thousands of his supporters demonstrated in Yerevan to demand a rerun of the disputed 2008 election which they believed was rigged in Sarkisian’s favor. Eight demonstrators and two police personnel were killed on March 1-2, 2008 as the Armenian authorities led by outgoing President Kocharian forcibly suppressed the protests.
More than 100 Ter-Petrosian loyalists were arrested in the following weeks. They were gradually set free within the next three years.
The HAK went on to participate in the May 2012 parliamentary elections and win 7 seats in Armenia’s 131-member National Assembly. That performance reflected, in large measure, a decline in Ter-Petrosian’s popularity.
Speaking to “Chorrord Inknishkhanutyun,” Ter-Petrosian branded Armenia’s political leadership “a bunch of criminals who seized power” and promised to comment on “all important issues preoccupying the society” after the presidential election. It was not clear, however, whether he will resign as HAK leader and leave the political arena altogether.