By Armen Zakarian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian on Friday stopped short of denying the widely held belief that he would like to succeed Robert Kocharian as president of Armenia.
“There is still more than three years left [before the completion of Kocharian’s second term in office],” he told reporters in response to a question about his presidential ambitions. “Why are we hurrying?”
Sarkisian, who is widely regarded as Armenia’s second most powerful leader, was less equivocal when asked to comment on mounting speculation about a planned pre-term handover of power from Kocharian to another member of the ruling regime. “I don’t think that any party is preparing for presidential elections today,” he said. “It is still too early to talk about presidential elections.”
“But that all parties and political forces, including the Republican Party [of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian], are preparing for parliamentary elections is a fact. That is absolutely understandable,” he added.
Sarkisian also made it clear that he does not anticipate pre-term parliamentary elections as well. “Two years is not a long time to prepare for parliamentary elections,” he said, referring to the next legislative polls due in 2007.
Under the Armenian constitution, the head of state can not serve for more than two consecutive five-year terms. Kocharian allies insist that the president is not seeking to abolish this restriction to avoid leaving office in 2008.
Most local observers see Sarkisian as his preferred successor. Both men come from Nagorno-Karabakh and have always acted in tandem in the Armenian political arena. Kocharian’s national security adviser, Garnik Isagulian, said Armenia’s next president should also be a native of Karabakh, arguing that it is a “vital territory” for all Armenians.