By Karine Kalantarian
Seven members of the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), joined by three other opposition deputies, formed a new parliamentary group on Tuesday, completing the demise of the HZhK's once powerful Miasnutyun (Unity) alliance with the governing Republican Party (HHK).
The two parties, which cruised to a landslide victory in the 1999 parliamentary elections, split up more than a year ago amid serious political differences. But HZhK deputies formally remained members of Miasnutyun's Republican-dominated faction in the parliament.
Their exit reduced to 38 the number of deputies affiliated with Miasnutyun. Even so, it will continue to be the largest faction of the 131-member legislature. Its leader, Galust Sahakian, played down the HZhK move, saying that the opposition party has long ceased to cooperate with the Republicans and boycotted Miasnutyun meetings for the past several months.
Twenty-five members of the faction are affiliated with the HHK, while 12 others left the HZhK last year in protest against its leadership hardening opposition to President Robert Kocharian and his government.
In a written statement, the HZhK lawmakers again accused the Republicans of betraying the political legacy of Karen Demirchian and Vazgen, the bloc's charismatic founders assassinated in the October 1999 attack on the parliament. Their new faction, named the People's Voice, also comprises three other opposition deputies. Among them is Shavarsh Kocharian, chairman of the parliament committee on science and education.
The HZhK chairman, Stepan Demirchian, told RFE/RL that the creation of the new parliamentary group was precipitated by the formation last week of a 16-party coalition of leading opposition forces. Demirchian and other opposition leaders hope that it will develop into an electoral alliance that will field a joint candidate for the presidential elections of February 2003.
Demirchian and another prominent opposition figure, former prime minister Aram Sarkisian, signaled their intention on Tuesday to expand the opposition grouping with their conspicuous presence at a seminar organized by Raffi Hovannisian, the U.S.-born former foreign minister. Sarkisian said that their cooperation with Hovannisian will lead to a "serious development," but decline to elaborate.
"I have always consulted and shared my thoughts with him," he told RFE/RL. "We agree on almost all key issues."
Hovannisian, who is increasingly critical of Kocharian, received Armenian citizenship last year and has since signaled plans to join active politics. He is seen by some analysts as a potential joint candidate of the Armenian opposition in the February election.
The former minister on Tuesday ducked a question about the possibility of his running for president. But he said he will make public his plans "soon."