By Ruzanna Stepanian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian denied on Monday any connection between himself and a new ambitious political party set up by Armenia’s most influential government-connected businessman.
Gagik Tsarukian’s party called Prosperous Armenia is expected to bring together prominent public figures and attempt to make a strong showing in the next parliamentary election due in 2007. Its recent establishment is seen by some local observer as being part of an effort to create an additional support base for President Robert Kocharian and possibly Sarkisian, his hitherto closest associate.
Sarkisian, who is likely to be a key player in the vote, told RFE/RL that he considers it “very normal” for Armenian businessmen to form and lead political organizations. Asked whether he plans to join it, he said, “I don’t think so. At least, I have not been made such offers. Nor do I think there will be such offers.”
Sarkisian, seen as Kocharian’s most likely successor in 2008, contested the last Armenian parliamentary election in an alliance with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK). He said he will clarify “at the beginning of February” whether he will again run for parliament on the HHK ticket.
Speaking to journalists last week, Markarian admitted that the powerful defense chief may not team up with his party next time around. Such a development would deal a blow to the Republicans’ hopes of retaining the largest faction in the National Assembly.
Tsarukian is believed to be close to Kocharian and has common business interests with one of Sarkisian’s two brothers. The former arm-wrestler’s Multi Group company comprises over 40 small and large businesses.
Sarkisian spoke to RFE/RL after attending a three-hour meeting of the supervisory board of Yerevan State University, of which he and other senior government officials are members. The board, dominated by YSU professors and lecturers, unexpectedly failed to elect the outgoing YSU rector, Radik Martirosian, as its chairman in a secret ballot. Martirosian enjoys a strong government backing.
Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian, who was also present at the meeting, said he was surprised by the outcome of the vote and could not suggest an explanation.