By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Hrach Melkumian
Armenia’s powerful Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and eight other cabinet members have joined the electoral list of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), making it the most influential of pro-government forces running in next May’s parliamentary elections.
Sarkisian’s name is second in the list of 120 candidates submitted by the HHK to the Central Election Commission (CEC) on Sunday. They will be vying for 75 out of 131 parliament seats contested under the system of proportional representation.
HHK leaders declined to specify motives for Sarkisian’s unexpected inclusion on their slate. “The defense minister is a political figure and it is natural for him to get fully involved in politics,” one of them, Tigran Torosian, told RFE/RL.
Sarkisian is President Robert Kocharian’s most influential and trusted associate. Many political analysts view him as the country’s second most powerful man. Having managed Kocharian’s campaign in the recent presidential election, he played a crucial role in the latter’s reelection. The two men are originally from the Nagorno-Karabakh and ruled the Armenian-populated disputed region during its war with Azerbaijan.
Sarkisian has held various ministerial posts in the Yerevan government since 1993, but it is the first time that he is running for the parliament. Though he has never been affiliated with any political organization, he was until now thought to have sponsored another major pro-Kocharian party, Orinats Yerkir.
The presence of eight other ministers will also improve the Republicans’ electoral fortunes. Those are Local Government Minister Hovik Abrahamian, Transport Minister Andranik Manukian, Industry Minister Karen Chshmaritian, Agriculture Minister David Zadoyan, Social Security Minister Razmik Martirosian, Energy Minister Armen Movsisian, Health Minister Ararat Mkrtchian and Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian.
The Republican list, topped by premier Markarian, also comprises many other government officials as well as businessmen. Among them is Areg Ghukasian, the Yerevan-based brother of Nagorno-Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian.
“We hope that as a result of the upcoming elections we will retain what we have now and increase it as much as we can,” Torosian said.
The Republicans, who control the biggest faction in the outgoing parliament, may thus solidify their status as Armenia’s number one “party of power” -- status that has been challenged in the past by other pro-Kocharian groups, notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
Significantly, the Dashnaktsutyun list, headed by Vahan Hovannisian, comprises the current chief of Kocharian’s staff, Artashes Tumanian, and several pro-presidential businessmen, including the son of tobacco tycoon Hrant Vartanian. Also among the Dashnaktsutyun candidates are two government members, Minister for Urban Development David Lokian and Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian. Both men are longtime members of the party which has many branches in the Armenian Diaspora.
Tumanian denied on Monday speculation that his involvement in the electoral race is part of his broader efforts to get a more high-ranking government post such as prime ministership. He said he has not discussed such issues with the Dashnaks.
Also included on the Dashnaktsutyun list is parliament deputy Vladimir Badalian whose daughter got engaged with Kocharian’s older son last year. Family connections are important in Armenia.
Another top Kocharian ally, Yerevan Mayor Robert Nazarian, heads the electoral slate of the Hzor Hayrenik (Powerful Fatherland) party dominated by government officials born in Georgia’s Armenian-populated region of Javakheti.