By Karine Kalantarian
The pro-government wing of the National Democratic Union (AZhM), embroiled in a leadership struggle with its chairman Vazgen Manukian, scuttled on Saturday a crucial meeting of the party’s governing council dominated by the latter’s supporters. The body did not make a quorum after a boycott staged by Manukian’s challengers who control the party’s parliamentary faction and the smaller decision-making board.
Under the AZhM rules, the council’s meetings must be attended by at least two thirds of its 46 members. Only 26 of them showed up for the gathering which could have been decisive for the future of what until recently was one of Armenia’s main opposition parties. The boycott was the only way of preventing a decision enabling Manukian to quell the revolt.
The council’s pro-Manukian majority instead adopted a non-binding resolution urging local AZhM chapters to expel seven rebel members of the board from their ranks. They also called for the board’s suspension pending an emergency party congress slated for September.
Manukian, who served as prime minister in 1990-91 and defense minister in 1992-93, was on Friday removed as leader of the parliamentary faction. His challengers also want to abolish the post of AZhM chairman to get a free hand in making deals with the authorities. They are reportedly led by another prominent AZhM member, Minister for State Property David Vartanian. But Vartanian denies any involvement in the infighting.
Manukian supporters allege the revolt is being encouraged by the authorities which want to remove an influential opponent from the political arena. “The purpose of this is to knock him out of the political struggle and prevent him from standing in the presidential elections of 2003,” said one of the party activists who gathered at the AZhM headquarters to voice their support for the embattled ex-premier.
The council’s failure to convene and take decisions leaves the outcome of the leadership struggle highly uncertain. The two increasingly hostile factions are now likely to focus on preparations for the September congress which will probably see their final showdown.