Both in public and in private, one question has dominated conversations in Armenia over the past month: Will Levon Ter-Petrosian's return to politics prove a true comeback?
While Ter-Petrosian's chances for success in next year's presidential elections remain uncertain, an upsurge of popular interest in the 62-year-old ex-president and support for his reelection campaign suggest that Armenia's political field is changing fast.
"He is the most pivotal statesman and politician in Armenia's political life and has no competitors in this sense," argued political analyst Suren Sureniants, a member of the political council of the opposition Republic (Hanrapetutiun) Party.
Charisma, intellect and hands-on experience are the attributes used to tout Ter-Petrosian, yet no opinion polls have been taken on how voters compare these attributes with those of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the government's projected presidential candidate. Aharon Adibekian, the head of the independent polling center Sociometer, said that a survey run in January 2007 gave the former president a "rather low" assessment, but added that "everything is still ahead and we cannot draw a conclusion yet." Polls on the question are expected "in the near future," he said.
For now, though, the lack of hard data to back up their hopes for a Ter-Petrosian win does not disturb the opposition. Reactions to Ter-Petrosian's candidacy may vary, commented Sureniants, but, for the opposition, the ex-president's return to politics "is perhaps an exclusive chance to get noticed."
The October 26 demonstration at which Ter-Petrosian announced his candidacy arguably marked the beginning of a new period for the opposition, elaborated one rank-and-file supporter. "I think that was an historical moment," translator Hakob Mkrtchian said. "We have waited long for him to return to politics. I think his statement opened a new page in Armenia's dull political life." Sixty-year-old doctor Laura Harutiunian agreed. With a candidate that has "the respect of many intellectuals," she said, voters can "finally make a choice." [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"I think that a new opposition movement has been formed and consolidated around Levon Ter-Petrosian and, if it takes more actions in the future, it will convince many to follow," said pro-opposition columnist Tigran Paskevichian.
A first step should be deciding on a response to what the opposition terms a "news blockade" by public television and other television stations against stories about Ter-Petrosian's campaign and the October 26 rally, Paskevichian said.
Many supporters agree. A report by public television about the demonstration showed the square in downtown Yerevan where thousands had gathered to hear Ter-Petrosian speak as "half-empty," related teacher Narine Hakobian, who attended the rally. "The report alternated with black-and-white footage showing
Marianna Grigoryan is a deputy editor for the independent ArmeniaNow weekly in Yerevan.