- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 February 21, 2003 

Decision 2003: Geghamyan Goes from Candidate to Kingmaker

Editor's Note: Artashes Geghamyan's 17 per cent share of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections places him in the position of kingmaker for the run-off. His support could assist the challenger Stepan Demirchyan to overhaul incumbent Robert Kocharyan, particularly if some of the latter's "soft" vote starts to ebb away.

Kocharyan's campaign will be working hard to peel away a proportion of Geghamyan's voters, despite the harsh criticism the challenger directed towards the present administration. ArmeniaNow presents a profile of the man who could decide the presidency.

Artashes Geghamyan, the last mayor of Soviet Yerevan, is riding a wave of popular nostalgia for former Communist political figures.

Poverty, social polarization, and insecurity have made people yearn for a return to the certainties of Soviet times. The phenomenon first surfaced with the campaign of Karen Demirchyan in 1998 - the vacuum created by his murder has been filled this time by his son Stepan and by Geghamyan.

Geghamyan's spokesman Hmayak Hovhannisyan stated several times on TV that Demirchyan was only a successor in name of his father while Geghamyan had passed through the same administrative school as the former Soviet party boss.

Geghamyan, 53, was born in Yerevan and his speeches have repeatedly referred to the city's traditions, a subtle comment on President Robert Kocharyan's Karabakhi origins. His opponents call Geghamyan populist for his campaigning style of playing on people's emotions.

He graduated from Yerevan Polytechnic Institute in 1971 and immediately began a political and party career. He held leading posts in the Komsomol (young communists) from 1972 to 1978 then followed the path of his father Mamikon Geghamyan through the Armenian Communist Party ranks. In 1987, he became First Secretary of Mashtots District Committee in Yerevan and two years later he was appointed Head of Yerevan City Council (mayor).

Geghamyan's political rise coincided with the Karabakh Movement. Unlike numerous high-ranking Soviet officials, he didn't associate with new authorities and left the political field. That is a factor in his popularity among voters today.

Geghamyan spent several years in business then returned to politics in 1995, when he was elected to the National Assembly. He founded the "National Unity" political party in 1997 and from 1999 led the Law and Unity faction in the Assembly.

He was a candidate in the 1998 presidential elections and backed Kocharyan against Karen Demirchyan in the second round. Later in 2000, when the President's power weakened, Geghamyan again declared solidarity with Kocharyan, something the incumbent's campaign team has reminded voters of. Geghamyan responds that he was trying to save the country from "fratricidal war".

Geghamyan turned sharply against Kocharyan after May 2000, when his hopes of being named Prime Minister in the new government were disappointed. He has even accused Kocharyan of knowledge of political murders. At least 10 officials have been killed in recent years without anyone being arrested, he said, leading him to conclude: "Kocharyan doesn't dismiss himself from the burden of those murders' suspicion."

Geghamyan has pledged to increase pensions and the salaries of workers of state budgetary organizations within one year. He states: "The shadow economy accounts for 40-60 percent of the economy. By destroying the shadow and multiplying the income of the budget, salaries will be tripled."

He pledges to fight corrupt business monopolies by creating opportunities for free competition. He argues that a middle class will emerge, that will be supportive of him, if the field is opened to hundreds of businessmen instead of one.

Geghamyan, who is married and has two sons, regards himself as a political centrist who leans to the left because of the present social conditions. His campaign has won support from Communists and Paruyr Hayrikyan, who spent 17 years in Soviet camps as a political prisoner. Geghamyan regards this support as one of his trump cards, demonstrating that ideological differences can be set aside for the good of the country.

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Geghamyan Goes from Candidate to Kingmaker

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  Photos of the week
  Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Hope and Assurance

It has been a season of many emotions, Decision 2003. Doves of peace were offered and officers to enforce that peace were stationed around the Central Elections Commission.



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