By Emil Danielyan

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
Jan 7 2008

Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian made public his election campaign
manifesto on Monday, pledging to turn Armenia into a "normal" state
where governments are formed as a result of free elections and respect
laws, human rights and free enterprise.

The 16-page document also reiterates his bitter critique of the
country's current leadership. It claims that Prime Minister Serzh
Sarkisian's victory in next month's presidential election would be
"tantamount to a national disaster."

The manifesto, titled "Pre-Election Program or Serene Musings," was
unveiled just over a week after the formation of Ter-Petrosian's
national campaign headquarters to be managed by former Foreign
Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian. Its coordinating council, which
comprises representatives of some of the opposition parties allied
to Ter-Petrosian, held its first meeting and appointed the heads of
its territorial branches in Yerevan on December 29.

It was decided that the Ter-Petrosian campaign in Yerevan will be
run by Khachatur Sukiasian, a wealthy parliamentarian who has been
facing a government crackdown on his businesses ever since backing
the ex-president's political comeback last September. Sukiasian will
oversee the work of Ter-Petrosian campaign offices in each of the
city's ten administrative districts. Among the heads of those offices
are former Interior Minister Suren Abrahamian and Pargev Ohanian,
a prominent judge who was controversially dismissed by President
Robert Kocharian last fall.

Ter-Petrosian's pre-election discourse so far has focused on the
analysis of controversial episodes from his 1991-1998 presidency as
well as the current Armenian government's track record. His already
known evaluations, coupled with a retrospective look at the last few
decades of Armenian history, make up a large part of the published
manifesto. The ex-president, who will turn 63 on Wednesday, again
denounces the Kocharian administration as a corrupt and criminal
regime that tolerates no dissent and is motivated by self-enrichment
at the expense of a downtrodden population.

The document also lays out his vision for Armenia's future. It says
that, if elected, Ter-Petrosian will strive for the "dismantling of the
existing kpletrocratic system" and the establishment of "full-fledged
democracy" anchored in free elections, protection of human rights and
judicial independence. Also, law-enforcement bodies and the military
would no longer be used as tools for government repression.

These pledges will ring hollow to Ter-Petrosian's longtime critics
who see few fundamental differences between Armenia's current and
former rulers. They point, among other things, to the Ter-Petrosian
government's failure to hold a single election recognized as free
and fair by the international community.

Ter-Petrosian's unveiled socioeconomic agenda is based on three
key principles of market-based economics which he believes are
absent in Armenia: a level playing field for all businesspeople,
fair economic competition, and absolute protection of private
property. While pledging to retrieve what he says are huge amounts
of money "stolen from the people" by wealthy government-connected
businessmen, Ter-Petrosian says that he would not seek a massive
"re-distribution of property" once in power.

Ter-Petrosian further commits himself to launching a crackdown on
widespread tax evasion which he says should primarily target large
corporate taxpayers that are believed to grossly underreport their
earnings thanks to government patronage. "According to foreign experts,
only 22 percent of the state budget's tax revenues is currently paid
by large entrepreneurs, whereas [that proportion] should have stood
at 75 percent" reads his campaign platform.

In that regard, the document reaffirms Ter-Petrosian's pledge to help
abolish a government-drafted law, effective from January 1, that will
make it much harder for small Armenian firms to qualify for so-called
"simplified tax." Payment of that tax has exempted them from other,
heftier duties.

According to Ter-Petrosian, these and other economic measures contained
in his platform would double Armenia's Gross Domestic Product and
triple its state budget in the next five years. "Needless to say
that in the event of the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,
the lifting of the economic blockades [of Armenia,] and the opening
of the Turkish-Armenian border, much more impressive results could
be expected," reads the platform.

Responding to Ter-Petrosian's grave allegations, Kocharian and
Sarkisian have been particularly scathing about his handling of the
first years of Armenia's painful transition to the free market. The
Armenian economy shrunk by half in 1992-1993 following the break-up of
the Soviet Union and the outbreak of wars in Karabakh and elsewhere
in the South Caucasus. Kocharian has charged that the Ter-Petrosian
administration was primarily responsible for turning Armenia into
"one of the poorest countries" of the world.

In his manifesto, Ter-Petrosian stands by his belief that the collapse
of the Soviet economy was inevitable and that it was more drastic in
Armenia than in other former Soviet republics because of the Karabakh
war, the crippling blockades imposed by Azerbaijan and Turkey as well
as turmoil in Georgia. But he admits that many Armenians do not and
will not accept this explanation. "When a person is worse off today
than he was yesterday, no logical explanation can satisfy him,"
he says.

The document is far less specific on foreign policy matters, with
Ter-Petrosian saying only that he would strengthen Armenia's relations
with Russia, Georgia and Iran and promising "constructive efforts"
to normalize ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey.

On the Karabakh conflict, the manifesto says Ter-Petrosian would
show the "political will" to achieve a compromise peace deal with
Azerbaijan that would enable the Karabakh Armenians to exercise their
"right to self-determination." It does not specify Ter-Petrosian's
position on international mediators' existing peace proposals that
are similar to a Karabakh settlement which he was ready to accept
before his resignation in 1998.