Opposition candidates Paruir Hairikian (National Self-Determination Union), Aram Sarksian (Democratic Party), and Lenser Aghalovian (Artsakh-Hayastan movement) officially announced yesterday their withdrawal from the presidential race in favor of Vazgen Manukian (National-Democratic Union) whom they endorsed as joint candidate of their parties for the presidential election, scheduled for September 22. The three withdrawing candidates will continue campaigning on behalf of their parties until September 16, urging voters to rally behind Manukian. Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaksutiun, whose activities have been suspended by the government, also endorsed Manukian. Hairikian had been the first to take this step on September 7, spurring the others to follow suit.
Manukian and the party leaders yesterday unveiled a common platform envisaging: full independence for Karabakh; state policies based on Armenian national values; formation of a government of national accord by the parties which supported the joint candidate; new parliamentary elections, and adoption of a new constitution strengthening the legislative and judiciary branches vis-a-vis presidential power; an industrial policy encouraging internal producers; a crackdown on "clan interests" which, in the candidates’ view, have prospered under incumbent president Levon Ter-Petrosian and his government; and an emphasis on social protection measures to accompany privatization. Manukian in his acceptance speech accused the Ter-Petrosian administration of turning Armenia into "a provincial oriental country of small business, lacking industrial and technological potential." (Snark, Noyan-Tapan, September 9 and 10)
Opposition leaders had until now held long and fruitless negotiations on a common platform and candidate. Manukian is a strong candidate as a former head of the now-ruling Armenian Pan-National Union, former prime minister, and defense minister. The formation of the opposition bloc may throw open a race in which Ter-Petrosian has enjoyed a very large lead over his opponents. But it may also have come about too late to surmount that lead. Opposition candidates Ashot Manucharian (Scientific-Industrial Union) and Sergey Badalian (Communist party) have at least for the moment declined to join the alliance. The opposition leaders’ policy positions on the whole are somewhat more nationalist on Karabakh and territorial issues as well as policy toward Turkey, and somewhat further left-of-center and more protectionist, compared to the policies of Ter-Petrosian’s government. However, these positions could well turn more pragmatic in the event of the opposition’s success. That success, however, remains unlikely.
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