By Ruzanna Stepanian
Underscoring his growing political clout, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian was overwhelmingly elected on Friday as head of the newly formed supervisory board of Armenia’s most prestigious university.
Members of the Governing Council of Yerevan State University chose President Robert Kocharian’s most powerful associate in a secret ballot less than two weeks after unexpectedly rejecting the candidacy of YSU’s outgoing rector, Radik Martirosian.
Martirosian was previously thought to be the Armenian government’s preferred candidate for the job. He chose to pull out of the race after Sarkisian was nominated by a senior member of the Armenian parliament.
“This was not a surprise to me,” Sarkisian told reporters after the election. “I already knew about that this morning.”
Sarkisian earlier denied any interest in the post of YSU board chairman. “Sometimes circumstances do not coincide with a person’s plans. I think this is such a case,” he explained on Friday.
The boards of YSU and other state-run universities were formed by the government recently as part of a structural reform of Armenia’s system of higher education. They are made up of government officials, faculty members and student representatives, and have the exclusive authority to approve university budgets and elect rectors.
The election of YSU’s new rector is scheduled for March 22. Sarkisian’s opinion is now expected to be decisive for its outcome.
The 51-year-old defense chief, who graduated from YSU’s Philology Department in 1979 and heads the university’s alumni association, denied any political motives behind his decision to take over the YSU board. Still, it will likely stoke speculation that he is already preparing for Armenia’s next presidential election due in 2008.
Sarkisian has repeatedly stated that his participation in the presidential ballot depends on the outcome of a parliamentary election slated for 2007. He on Friday again promised to announce in mid-February whether he will run for parliament on the ticket of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party or another pro-establishment group.