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Armenian Opposition Presses Government For Early Elections

Levon Zurabian (second from left) and other members of the Armenian National Congress negotiate with government representatives earlier this month.
YEREVAN -- Representatives of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) argued for holding early presidential and parliamentary elections during their fourth round of negotiations with the governing coalition, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

HAK officials presented the government negotiating team with an 87-page document explaining the need to hold fresh elections during talks between the two sides on August 9 in Yerevan.

The document publicized by the HAK later says that elections are the only way of reforming Armenia's "illegitimate, totally undemocratic, and corrupt" system of governance.

"That system has been formed as a result of widespread and large-scale election falsifications and repression," Levon Zurabian, the chief HAK negotiator, said after the meeting, which lasted for more than five hours.

The document contains separate chapters on the authorities' handling of the 2008 presidential election, their postelection crackdown on the opposition, the country's flawed judiciary, as well as socioeconomic problems.

The opposition alliance also made a damning indictment of the parliament, which is dominated by President Serzh Sarkisian's supporters. It claimed that 76 members of the 131-strong National Assembly, including speaker Hovik Abrahamian, are engaged in entrepreneurial activities in violation of the law.

Zurabian said the government delegation headed by Davit Harutiunian, the chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, listened to the HAK arguments "very attentively." He said it asked for one week to officially respond to them.

Still, Harutiunian voiced the coalition representatives' "preliminary" reaction immediately after the meeting.

"Some of them are facts; some of them are evaluations," he said of the HAK document. "We have different evaluations."

"As for the facts, we believe that some of them are not presented accurately," Harutiunian told reporters. "Conclusions drawn from other facts are not accurate either. We are going to give our assessment of the presented arguments during the next meeting, which will take place [August 16]."

Sarkisian and other coalition leaders have repeatedly rejected the HAK demands for fresh elections. Nevertheless, their delegation agreed last month to discuss the matter in their ongoing dialogue.

Gagik Minasian, a member of Harutiunian's team, said late last week that the government side hopes to convince the HAK to reconsider its stance and work with the authorities in ensuring the proper conduct of the next regular elections due in 2012 and 2013.

The HAK leadership, for its part, has threatened to end the dialogue and step up antigovernment street protests in Yerevan next month if the authorities persist in rejecting its key demand.

Meanwhile, two major opposition parties at odds with the HAK insisted on August 9 that the opposition bloc is not serious about its repeated pledges to force early elections.

Leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Heritage (Zharangutyun) parties predicted that Sarkisian will not call fresh polls as a result of his dialogue with the HAK.

Dashnaktsutyun's Hrant Markarian claimed that HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrossian is only keen to "win time" ahead of the regular parliamentary and presidential elections.

"The policy they have pursued in the last three or four years leaves them with no other choice," Markarian told RFE/RL. "They need to keep [their supporters] busy with something so that the wave [of popular support for the HAK] remains high and enables them to achieve some success in the forthcoming elections."

"I don't consider a preterm presidential election likely," agreed Armen Martirosian, a leading member of Zharangutyun. "No such political process seems to be under way right now."

Martirosian claimed that by engaging in the dialogue with the government the HAK has only burnished Sarkisian's reputation abroad and thus strengthened his positions at home.

"A section of the opposition is helping the authorities very much. ... Why would such a strong president hold a preterm presidential election?" he asked at a news conference on August 9.

Martirosian, who is also a parliament deputy, went on to dismiss the ongoing talks between the government and HAK representatives as a "soap opera" aimed at "distracting the society from real problems and real solutions."

Markarian similarly claimed the two sides are only concerned with monopolizing the political arena.

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