Armenian defense minister joins ruling party
|Publication Date||24 July 2006|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, Armenian defense minister joins ruling party, 24 July 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46f2587014.html [accessed 23 May 2013]|
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Haroutiun Khachatrian 7/24/06
In a widely expected move, Armenia's Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian has taken a senior leadership position with the ruling Republican Party amidst an apparent push by the party to retain its political weight in upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
Sarkisian, often depicted as a favorite to succeed President Robert Kocharian, was elected as board chairman of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) at a July 22 congress in Yerevan called to amend the party's policy platform and regulations. The post of chairman of the board was reinstated for the elections, and 28 new members were appointed to the party's 42-member board. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian was elected as the party's president.
Sarkisian's decision to join the Republican Party has been scrutinized as an indicator of political strategies to come among Armenia's ruling elite in the run-up to the country's parliamentary elections in 2007 and presidential elections in 2008. But party members have taken pains to emphasize that the inclusion of Defense Minister Sarkisian and Prime Minister Markarian only testifies to the government's political unity.
"No one has a doubt that Serge Sarkisian would be able to create his own party, as many other politicians did or intended to," commented parliamentarian Hranush Hakobian, another Republican Party member, in an interview with Armnews TV. "But he preferred to join the existing party instead, thus showing his commitment to avoiding conflicts."
Sarkisian told journalists at the congress that he has no rival in Armenia, and denied reports of an ongoing conflict with President Kocharian, adding that he has no plans to resign from his post as defense minister.
In a 90-second speech to congress participants, Sarkisian, speaking as if already a party veteran, criticized those who had predicted a split in the RPA in the past and added that the party was determined to strengthen the spirit of national unity as Armenia takes on new challenges. At a briefing following the congress, Sarkisian told reporters that his election as chairman of the Republican Party board was not an extraordinary event. "I have cooperated with this party for a long time now," he said, mentioning that he had run in the 2003 parliamentary elections on the RPA's candidate list, although not as a party member. "So we have just made a document correspond to the reality of the situation," he said.
Parliamentary Speaker Tigran Torosian, vice-president of the RPA, earlier also advanced that view, describing Sarkisian's decision to join the party as "nothing strange."
"Of course, Mr Sarksian is an influential person and the RPA is an influential political party, if not the most influential one," Aravot newspaper quoted Torosian as saying on July 20. "His joining the RPA is natural."
Outside observers have focused on Sarkisian's own ambitions for the presidential elections in 2008, but the defense minister and other senior party officials at the congress kept mum on that score. In a July 20 interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Sarkisian claimed that President Kocharian approved his decision to join the Republican Party, but stressed that he himself has not decided whether or not to run for president when Kocharian steps down in 2008. Prime Minister Markarian told reporters after the congress that a decision about an RPA presidential candidate will be taken only after next year's parliamentary elections.
The May 2007 parliamentary elections, however, also did not feature on the congress' agenda, but party leaders did not deny that steps taken at the gathering were in preparation for next year's vote. Sarkisian stated that the RPA would work with other parties in the elections, adding that the ballot "will be the best elections in Armenia so far. It is because I want them to be."
The congress demonstrated the Republican Party's growing political potential. The party now claims more than 30,000 members, twice its official number in 2004. In recent weeks, scores of new members have joined the ranks, not least due to rumors about Sarkisian's expected decision to register as a member. At least seven government ministers, many influential regional governors and community heads, as well as prominent businessmen took part in the party congress.
Torosian told congress participants that the influx of new members emphasizes the growing importance of Armenian political parties and the tendency for consolidation to capitalize on those gains. Torosian argued that this is a consequence of the constitutional amendments adopted last November, which enhance the role of the parliament vis-à-vis the president.
According to Suren Zolian, an independent political analyst, the RPA stands to take as many as half of the next parliament's 131 seats. (Serge Sarkisian himself has said that he would be glad if the party could win 21 percent of the vote.) However, another political scientist, Manvel Sarkisian of the Kavkaz Analytical Center, believes the situation is not that simple. Kocharian and his entourage will more likely support Bargavach Hayastan, or Prosperous Armenia, a new party that has been cast as part of the campaign for a "liberal, democratic Armenia" backed by the West, commented Sarkisian, who is no relation to the defense minister. While terming the congress an "unprecedented event in Armenian history" since the ruling party has no explicit support from the president or "a foreign country," Sarkisian predicted that conflicts with Prosperous Armenia are likely since the party has "recruited those who were not allowed to join Bargavach Hayastan."
For now, though, the RPA is taking pains to emphasize its alignment with the Armenian and Western mainstream. Founded in 1990 as a nationalist party, the group now describes itself as a "national-conservative party."
"We are a classical conservative party, for which the basic values are: God, nation, motherland, traditional family, a stable system of moral values, a liberal economy," Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said in a speech addressing the congress.
Editor's Note: Haroutiun Khachatrian is a Yerevan-based writer specializing in economic and political affairs.
Posted July 24, 2006 © Eurasianet