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Armenia: Opposition Leaders Mull New Alliances

By Astghik Bedevian and Liz Fuller (RFE/RL) January 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Armenia's leading opposition forces are holding negotiations on the possibility of forming new alliances ahead of the parliamentary elections due in May, opposition leaders told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on January 8.

National Unity Party (AMK) leader Artashes Geghamian indicated that he is considering ways of teaming up with another opposition heavyweight, Stepan Demirchian and his People's Party of Armenia (HZhK). Former Prime Minister and Hanrapetutiun party Chairman Aram Sargsian is also involved in ongoing talks with fellow opposition parties.

Up For Discussion

Geghamian told RFE/RL he has held "some discussions" with the HZhk. "We have primarily talked about doing everything to ensure that the upcoming elections are democratic and preventing falsifications," he said, but declined to divulge further details. HZhK leaders could not be immediately reached for comment.

Geghamian and Demirchian have had an uneasy personal rapport, falling out during the presidential elections of February-March 2003 when they were President Robert Kocharian's main opposition challengers.
"I am really delighted with the current negotiations in terms of their quality and responses of opposition leaders." -- Hanrapetutiun leader Sargsian

The two men joined forces a year later to lead an ill-fated opposition attempt to force Kocharian into resignation with a campaign of street protests. The failure of the campaign opened a new rift between them that appeared to have deepened in May 2006 when Demirchian accused Geghamian of lying about his late father, HZhK founder Karen Demirchian. Geghamian was quick to try to mend fences with Demirchian at the time.

Hanrapetutiun leader Sargsian reportedly is also participating in the current talks, which he described as encouraging. "Formation of alliances is always much easier ahead of elections," he told RFE/RL. "I am really delighted with the current negotiations in terms of their quality and responses of opposition leaders."

He added that the talks have so far focused on the nomination of single opposition candidates in all of Yerevan's 15 electoral districts. But he would not comment on the chances of a new broad-based opposition alliance emerging in place of the largely moribund Artarutiun (Justice) bloc led by Demirchian.

It is also unclear whether Geghamian and Demirchian are prepared to conclude a formal election alliance with the more radical Sargsian. Sargsian for his part "unequivocally" does not rule out cooperation with the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), according to Noyan Tapan on January 9.

Electoral Alternative

Meanwhile, there is also growing talk of another major electoral alliance that could be led by former parliament speaker and Orinats Yerkir party head Artur Baghdasarian and Samvel Babayan, the former commander of the armed forces of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

Former parliament speakder Artur Baghdasarian (Photolur file photo)

Babayan launched his Dashink party in late 2005, and told RFE/RL's Armenian Service in June 2006 that he was confident it will win representation in the new parliament to be elected this year. He also said he would not form an electoral alliance with any other party.

Among their potential allies is the Union for Constitutional Rights (SIM), a small opposition party currently affiliated with Artarutiun. Hayk Babukhanian, who replaced Hrant Khachatrian as SIM's leader late last summer, in early January did not rule out the possibility of the SIM joining forces with Orinats Yerkir and Dashink.

Opposition Welcome

Babukhanian dismissed speculation that Baghdasarian's and Babayan's ambitious parties maintain secret ties with President Robert Kocharian. "If they don't support the current authorities, then they are in opposition," he said.

Yet another possible election alliance would bring together the small opposition Union of National Democrats headed by Arshak Sadoyan and the Democratic Path party headed by independent parliamentarian Manuk Gasparian, Noyan Tapan reported on January 9, quoting the independent daily "Aravot."

Gasparian said he is holding talks with "two or three" individual political figures who have expressed an interest in running on the bloc's joint list, but declined to name them.

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