By Armen Zakarian
The Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on Saturday formally threw its weight behind President Robert Kocharian’s reelection bid, saying that his policies have been a success and remain in tune with the HHK agenda.
Markarian told hundreds of party activists, among them many government members, to “actively” campaign for Kocharian’s victory in the February 19 elections. Speaking ta a pre-election party convention, he again rejected accusations of betraying the legacy of Vazgen Sarksisian, the HHK founder assassinated in the October 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament.
“Today there are no facts testifying to any diversion from our common principles agreed with the president, which would give the Republicans reason to review their attitude [toward Kocharian],” Markarian said in his speech.
“The positive changes registered in the country’s economic, political reforms and the foreign policy sphere as a result of his five-year work are obvious to us,” he said.
Markarian also insisted that the late Sarkisian made a right decision when he backed Kocharian’s rise to power in 1998. “Vazgen is not alive now and some people are now using that fact to present him as a deluded person,” he said.
The HHK, and Markarian in particular, was among those government factions that strongly challenged Kocharian in the months that followed the parliament massacre, suspecing him of masterminding the crime. Markarian’s appointment as prime minister in May 1999 marked Kocharian’s victory in the bitter power struggle. Some close associates of Sarkisian and other assassinated officials left the party afterwards, accusing the Republican leaders of “betrayal.”
The Republicans are now a key component of Kocharian’s power base which includes other pro-presidential parties, top state bureaucrats and government-connected businesspeople. The HHK has gained more political weight since scoring a landslide victory in the October local elections. One of its senior members, Samvel Nikoyan, confirmed that the party will use its control of many local governments to facilitate Kocharian’s reelection.
Another party leader, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, said in his speech that the Republicans must already set the goal of winning the next parliamentary elections due in May 2003 -- the main condition for their conitnued strong presence in the government.
“We want to have a [parliamentary] majority that would ensure the government’s uninterrupted work,” Markarian told reporters on the sidelines of the gathering.
The remarks appeared to reflect reported HHK worries that Kocharian may no longer want to see Markarian as prime minister in the event of his smooth reelection and support other loyal parties in the legislative polls.
But as things stand now, the center-right nationalist party is increasingly attractive to senior government officials, as evidenced by the presence of about a dozen ministers at its congress. Several of them, including Industry Minster Karen Chshmaritian and Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian, have joined the HHK recently.
(Fotolur photo: Tigran Torosian, left, and Andranik Markarian holding Saturday's congress of their Republican Party.)