By Hrach Melkumian and Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian will be striving to maintain his control of the Armenian parliament with the help of about a dozen political parties that have decided not to form alliances for the May 25 elections.
The biggest such organizations -- the Republican Party (HHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Orinats Yerkir -- will submit separate lists of candidates for 131 parliament seats in time for Sunday’s deadline set by the Central Election Commission.
Even the smaller pro-presidential groups not represented in the outgoing National Assembly have refrained from joining forces for the race. Some of them have instead been bolstered by wealthy government-connected businessmen whose money and political clout will be essential for securing votes.
The HHK, which is led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and controls many local governments, appears to harbor the biggest ambitions. It also has the largest faction in the current legislature.
“We have the potential and resources to achieve success without forming alliances,” the party’s campaign coordinator, Samvel Nikoyan, told RFE/RL on Saturday. “We will be seeking to retain what we have now and even win additional seats.”
The Republicans’ intentions may not sit well with Dashnaktsutyun and Orinats Yerkir. The two parties have in the past squabbled with the Republicans over top government posts. Some local commentators have suggested that Kocharian is now interested in offsetting the HHK influence by giving Dashnaktsutyun a greater representation in the parliament and the executive.
Significantly, Kocharian’s chief of staff, Artashes Tumanian, has reportedly been included on the nationalist party’s electoral slate. It will also comprise tobacco magnate Hrant Vartanian and several other wealthy men with close ties with the presidential administration. Their financial and government resources could give the Dashnaks, hitherto mainly funded by the Armenian Diaspora, the muscle to compete with Markarian’s party on equal terms.
In an equally unusual move, pro-Kocharian tycoons have also joined smaller parties. For example, one of them, Harutiun Pambukian, has joined the little known Democratic Liberal Union of Armenia with an apparent mission to help it clear the five percent vote barrier for winning seats on the party list basis. Pambukian’s business interests range from imports of gasoline to farming.
Another tycoon, Gurgen Arsenian of the Arsoil company, will be contesting the elections at the helm of his own organization called the United Workers’ Party.
The pro-Kocharian camp’s number one rival will be a newly formed alliance of more than a dozen opposition parties led by defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian. The electoral bloc on Saturday finalized the list of its candidates for the 75 seats contested under the system of proportional representation. Half of them are affiliated with Demirchian’s People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK).
Topping the list are Demirchian, Hanrapetutyun party leader Aram Sarkisian and two other former presidential candidates: Vazgen Manukian and Aram Karapetian. Also chosen for the top ten positions are opposition leaders like Shavarsh Kocharian and Arshak Sadoyan.
“We are convinced that if the elections are free and fair, we will get the majority of votes,” said Stepan Zakarian, a senior HZhK member and also a top candidate.
It was not clear yet which opposition leaders will vie for 56 other parliament seats reserved for single-mandate constituencies.