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By Anush Dashtents

Former prime minister Vazgen Manukian secured on Saturday a major success in the continuing standoff over the leadership of his National Democratic Union (AZhM), mustering additional support against the party’s rebellious pro-government wing. Manukian’s allies succeeded in securing a two thirds majority in the AZhM’s governing “political council,” enough to isolate his challengers.

In a decision backed by 32 out of its 46 members, the council suspended the party’s eight-members board which decides on its day-to-day activities and is currently dominated by advocates of closer cooperation with the authorities. Six of its members staged a revolt last month as they moved to abolish the post of AZhM chairman, held by Manukian ever since the party was set up in 1991. They also control the small AZhM faction in the parliament.

The rebel leaders believe that the AZhM should draw a line under its opposition past and formally join the current governing coalition. Manukian is strongly opposed to such a development. He and his supporters claim that their opponents hope to draw material benefits from closer ties with the ruling regime.

The pro-Manukian wing’s first attempt to put down the revolt was unsuccessful last Saturday when the council could not make a quorum after its meeting was boycotted by the rival camp. Under the AZhM rules, such meetings must be attended by at least two thirds of its 46 members. Only 26 of them showed up for the gathering. Manukian has since won over six more council members, giving him a comfortable majority in the party leadership.

The council called on local party chapters to expel the rebels from their ranks and sent a letter to parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian informing him that none of the AZhM lawmakers except Manukian represents the party anymore.

“It’s was decided today that the party is resuming its normal work,” said one of its members, Albert Manjoyan. Another pro-Manukian activist, Aleksandr Butayev, said the AZhM will hold an emergency congress within the next two months.

There was no immediate reaction from the pro-government challengers. One of them, parliament deputy Seyran Avakian, declined to comment, denying any knowledge about Saturday’s decision.

In an interview with RFE/RL on Monday, Manukian denied speculation that President Robert Kocharian or the government may have had a hand in the revolt. But many of his allies are convinced that at least one cabinet member, Minister for State Property David Vartanian, is behind it.
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