By Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian and three major parties supporting him pledged Wednesday to jointly rule Armenia for the next four years as they formalized an agreement to form a coalition government and divide senior posts in the new parliament.
The deal took the form of a joint declaration signed by the leaders of the Republican Party (HHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Orinats Yerkir (Country) at a special ceremony in the presidential palace. It allows Kocharian to continue to name the ministers of defense, justice and foreign affairs in addition to his direct control of the law-enforcement bodies.
The HHK leader, Andranik Markarian, will remain prime minister. His party, the controversial winner of the May 25 elections, will retain its control over seven ministries, including those of finance, energy and industry. Markarian said all but “one or two” incumbent Republican ministers will stay on.
As was widely anticipated, Dashnaktsutyun and Orinats Yerkir will get three ministerial portfolios each. The Dashnaks, who earlier accused the Republicans of manipulating the vote results, will take over the ministries of agriculture, health and social security.
Orinats Yerkir will run the ministries of culture, education and urban development. The populist party’s biggest prize is the post of parliament speaker. It will be given to its 34-year-old leader, Artur Baghdasarian. His two deputies will be named by the two other pro-Kocharian groups.
Also, Orinats Yerkir and the HHK will each run two parliamentary committees. The two other committees will be given to Dashnaktsutyun and a parliamentary group representing non-partisan lawmakers.
“I am ready to share responsibility with you in the next four or five years,” Kocharian told his allies.
The recently reelected president also warned that a collapse of the coalition could undermine political stability in Armenia. “If the coalition works effectively we will have stability in our country,” he said. “If not, we will have problems.”
“There will be many internal and external challenges,” Markarian agreed. “We must be able to meet them jointly.”
Markarian emphasized that the HHK’s two coalition partners agreed to shoulder responsibility for the entire government, not just their ministries. This was a key condition set by the Republicans during the post-election power-sharing negotiations. They have also agreed to Dashnaktsutyun’s demand that each of the three parties be allowed to withdraw its ministers at will.
Armen Rustamian, who signed the declaration on behalf of Dashnaktsutyun, sounded optimistic about the success of the undertaking. “We are getting off to a good start, and that means half of the job is already done,” he declared. “Five years later, we will be able to speak about a much better Armenia.”
Baghdasarian, for his part, welcomed the very fact of a first-every multi-party agreement to form an Armenian government. “We are laying the groundwork for an important precedent of addressing our society’s problems through a political agreement,” he said.
The new ministerial appointments are expected to be formalized by Kocharian by the end of this week. The party leaders said the new cabinet will draft a mid-term plan of action and submit it to the parliament within ten days.
The new National Assembly will convene and elect its leadership on Thursday. The coalition parties will jointly control at least 73 of its 131 seats, giving them a comfortable majority. They will also enjoy the backing of more than 20 government-connected deputies not affiliated with any party.
(Photolur photo: Baghdasarian, left, Markarian, center, and Rustamian shaking hands after signing the agreement.)