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Armenia: Former President Mum On 2008 Election Plans

By Irina Hovannisian Some believe Ter-Petrossian, pictured here in 1997, is poised for another presidential run (epa) YEREVAN, March 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Levon Ter-Petrossian, Armenia's reclusive former president, made a rare public appearance this week, but again declined to make any statements.

One of his close associates, however, reiterated that Ter-Petrossian will participate in the presidential election due early next year.

Popular Pan-National

Ter-Petrossian received a prolonged standing ovation on March 25 when he walked into a conference room packed with hundreds of members of his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) gathered for its annual congress.

HHSh Chairman Ararat Zurabian, who presided over the gathering, warmly welcomed Ter-Petrossian, saying that he will eventually return to power. "I am convinced that Ter-Petrossian will definitely participate in the presidential election," Zurabian told reporters afterward.

Zurabian said on March 25 that Ter-Petrossian can again win over Armenians with "a few speeches."

Zurabian made a similar prediction five months ago, saying he believes Ter-Petrossian "will definitely participate in the presidential elections as a candidate. That will completely change the situation in Armenia."

But on that occasion, Zurabian admitted that he was expressing a personal belief, and that he had not discussed with Ter-Petrossian the possibility that the former president would participate in the 2008 presidential poll. He added that the HHSh plans "in any event" to field a candidate in that ballot.

Approached by RFE/RL on March 25, Ter-Petrossian declined either to corroborate or reject Zurabian's prediction. He vaguely promised to talk to journalists "later" before holding a separate meeting with HHSh leaders behind closed doors.

Ter-Petrossian spearheaded the unofficial Karabakh Committee founded in early 1988 and was first elected president in September, 1991. In that capacity he led Armenia to independence from the Soviet Union.

He was reelected in a fiercely fought and controversial election in September 1996, but has rarely spoken in public since he was pressured by key ministers, including then-Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, to resign in February 1998.

The resignation came three months after the publication of a lengthy analysis in which Ter-Petrossian argued that Armenia should seek a solution to the Karabakh conflict sooner, rather than later. That argument was widely interpreted, and rejected, as a call for major concessions to Azerbaijan.

Ter-Petrossian's divided and unpopular allies still hope that he will make a political comeback, and the constitution does not preclude him from participating in next year's elections: it says only that one person may not serve more than two consecutive terms.

Haunting Past

Zurabian said on March 25 that Ter-Petrossian can again win over Armenians with "a few speeches." He also claimed that the HHSh will win at least 10 percent of the vote if the May 12 parliamentary elections are free and fair.

Many Armenians continue to associate the HHSh with the economic collapse and severe energy crisis of the early 1990s. Speakers at the HHSh congress sought to justify those hardships, saying that they were the inevitable result of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. They also emphasized the fact that the Armenian victory in the war was achieved during Ter-Petrossian's tenure as president.

Zurabian went on to blame key members of the current government for the culture of electoral fraud that took root in Armenia under the HHSh. In particular, he implicated Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian and Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian in the purported falsification of the results of the September 1996 presidential election.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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