By Armen Zakarian and Karine Kalantarian
Armenia's three main parties supporting President Robert Kocharian appear to have hammered out a long-awaited agreement to form a coalition government reflecting the contested results of the May 25 parliamentary elections.
Senior sources told RFE/RL on Tuesday that the Republican Party (HHK) of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, will have nine ministerial posts, or far more than its two partners: Orinats Yerkir and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). They will get three portfolios each, while Markarian will stay on as premier.
The sources said the key positions in the new cabinet will continue to be occupied by close Kocharian associates: Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Justice Minister David Harutiunian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. Harutiunian and Oskanian are not linked to any party and did not take part in the elections unlike the other ministers.
Sarkisian, who is seen as the second most powerful official in Armenia, flatly denied speculation that he might be interested in the posts of prime minister or parliament speaker. “I intend to continue to work at the Defense Ministry,” he told RFE/RL. “There are still a lot of things to be done there.”
Sarkisian claimed that he has had five different opportunities to become prime minister throughout his political career but has not taken any of them. He would not elaborate, however.
The HHK’s role in the coalition was highlighted by the decision of Sarkisian and eight other ministers elected to parliament on the Republican ticket to officially inform the Central Election Commission (CEC) that they cede their mandates to other candidates from the party’s list of candidates. Armenia’s constitution bars lawmakers from holding any posts in the executive.
Among those officials are Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian, Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian, Energy Minister Armen Movsisian, Industry Ministry Karen Chshmaritian and Agriculture Minister David Zadoyan. A top HHK spokesman, Samvel Nikoyan, said he thinks that “not all of them will retain their posts.” He confirmed that at least one of them, Zadoyan, is certain to lose his job.
Other sources said that Zadoyan, who has been in government since the early 1990s, will be replaced by David Lokian, a senior member of Dashnaktsutyun who has served as minister for urban development in the current cabinet. Dashnaktsutyun also looks set to run the ministries of social security and health as well as the northwestern Aragatsotn and Shirak provinces. In addition, two of its leaders, Vahan Hovannisian and Armen Rustamian, will likely become the deputy speaker and the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the new parliament.
Under the three-party agreement, reportedly engineered by Kocharian, the National Assembly will be headed by Orinats Yerkir’s 34-year-old leader, Artur Baghdasarian. The populist party will also take over the ministries of education, urban development and culture and govern two other Armenian regions: Gegharkunik and Vayots Dzor.
The sources said the power-sharing deal was made possible by Dashnaktsutyun’s decision on Tuesday to accept Kocharian’s and the HHK’s terms of entering the coalition. The move followed two days of intensive discussions by its governing body. The party had earlier demanded the creation of a powerful government agency charged with fighting corruption. But the idea was apparently not backed by Kocharian.
It also emerged that Artashes Tumanian, the chief of Kocharian’s staff who was second in the list of Dashnaktsutyun’s election candidates, will not serve in the parliament and will stay on in his current position. In the run-up to the elections Tumanian was considered a candidate for the post of prime minister. However, Dashnaktsutyun’s worse-than-expected performance put an end to the speculation.
The Diaspora-linked nationalist party will have only 12 seats in the parliament. The HHK and Orinats Yerkir factions, by contrast, will number 40 and 22 members respectively.