By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian will likely take over a new “super-ministry” and solidify his status as Armenia’s unofficial deputy prime minister, sources close to him said on Tuesday.
They said that the new ministry will have direct control over provincial administrations as well as the existing government departments on water resources, emergencies and refugee affairs. President Robert Kocharian will appoint Abrahamian, one of his most trusted lieutenants, to run the agency, they claimed.
The information was effectively confirmed by Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). “The constitution stipulates that the government is made up of ministries,” Sahakian told RFE/RL, referring to the fact that Abrahamian currently has no ministry of his own despite wielding substantial power.
Abrahamian, who has extensive business interests in his native Artashat district south of Yerevan, is a member of the HHK and could formally increase Republican presence in government. But some observers say he would act as a counterweight to Markarian who is already overshadowed by Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
Representatives of the HHK’s junior coalition partners would not comment on possible implications of Abrahamian’s appointment. “I know nothing about that,” said Samvel Balasanian, the parliamentary leader of the Orinats Yerkir Party. But he said Kocharian should consult with the coalition parties before making such changes.
Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), effectively backed the idea of structural changes in the cabinet. But he said the cabinet’s make-up should be set by a special law, rather than presidential decrees as is the case now.
Opposition lawmakers dismissed the possible change as irrelevant to Armenia’s pressing needs. “I don’t expect any good for Armenia to come out of this,” said Shavarsh Kocharian of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance.
Opposition leaders have repeatedly accused Abrahamian of playing a large role in vote rigging reported during the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2003. They have publicly used Abrahamian’s reputed “Muk” (Mouse) nickname to express their contempt for the official. He is known to have uneasy relations with Dashnaktsutyun as well.
Still, Abrahamian won on Tuesday unlikely praise of his “professionalism” from a prominent oppositionist, Victor Dallakian. “This will probably be a rare case where Kocharian is not wrong,” he said of the possible appointment.
But Dallakian disagreed that the would-be ministry will have sweeping powers. “I treat talk of a super-ministry with humor because in the Republic of Armenia there is a person who usurped power and is it’s the unelected president,” he told RFE/RL. “Any minister will be obliged to carry out Kocharian’s orders.”
Dallakian, himself a former HHK member, also claimed that Abrahamian’s appointment would be bad news for Markarian. “I suppose that the prime minister will not be happy with Hovik Abrahamian’s appointment because the latter could counterbalance him,” he said. “Abrahamian is definitely more trusted by the unelected president than the prime minister is.”
(Photolur photo: Hovik Abrahamian.)