By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Armen Zakarian
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and other leaders of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) sought Wednesday to downplay implications of the HHK’s landslide victory in Sunday’s local elections. They said the center-right party remains committed to a close alliance with President Robert Kocharian and does not harbor greater political ambitions after the electoral triumph.
“I wouldn’t say that this was a victory only for the Republican Party, because whatever our candidates said of government policies at the local level was equally applicable to the president,” Markarian told reporters. “So I can say that this victory is, in fact, shared by the president.”
He added that their two-and-a-half year joint governance of the country has led to “political stability and economic progress” which must not be disrupted by “any successful election.”
Markarian was responding to media speculation that he and his strengthening party, which does not control several key government ministries, could now stake a greater claim to the Armenian leadership. Some commentators have even suggested that the Republicans may feel confident enough to withdraw their support for Kocharian’s reelection and themselves contest the February presidential elections.
But as another HHK leader, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, cautioned on Wednesday, the scale of their victory in the local elections does not reflect the party’s popularity with Armenians. Torosian effectively admitted that the HHK’s approval rating is considerably lower than the percentage of its candidates elected to the top executive posts in Yerevan districts, cities and villages across Armenia. He argued that most people who went to the polls on Sunday voted primarily for individuals, not parties.
Party officials say that at least 170 of 220 Republican candidates have become community heads. The Republicans and their allies won in 30 out of 37 major municipal communities. The elections, largely ignored by the opposition, were held in more than 650 communities.
Speaking at a news conference Torosian, also urged journalists and political observers not to describe the HHK victory as a “landslide.” “This is causing unnecessary jealousy,” he said, referring to other pro-presidential and opposition parties.
One of those parties, Orinats Yerkir, on Tuesday accused the HHK of abusing its governing status in the run-up to and during the local polls. Orinats Yerkir came in a distant second in the vote, followed by another major pro-Kocharian party: the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
Political observers believe that Kocharian, who directly controls the military and security agencies, was until now trying to offset growing HHK influence in other areas by bringing other pro-presidential forces into government. Some have even speculated that Markarian’s dismissal is just a matter of time. However, the prime minister’s positions now seem much stronger as the president is now expected to rely primarily rely on the Republicans in his reelection campaign.