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By Astghik Bedevian
The three political parties represented in Armenia’s government sought on Monday to end speculation about the imminent collapse of their uneasy alliance, saying that it will hold “at least” until next year’s parliamentary election.

In a joint statement, the Republican Party of Armenia, (HHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Orinats Yerkir Party pledged to display “mutual respect for each other and each other’s positions” -- something which has not always been the case ever since they signed a power-sharing deal with President Robert Kocharian in June 2003.

“Attaching great importance to further reforms and their effectiveness, the parties of the political coalition are determined to continue their cooperation at least until the official start of the 2007 parliamentary elections,” read the statement. It said they will try to ease “pre-election tensions” in Armenia and make sure that the polls “fully meet international standards.”

“There was a need for such a statement because there have been many rumors about the coalition in circulation,” Levon Mkrtchian, the leader of the Dashnaktsutyun faction in parliament, told RFE/RL. “There was also a need to inform our public about our goals.”

The most important of those goals, according to the statement, is the “deepening of democracy and entrenchment of an appropriate culture and traditions” in Armenia. The coalition parties urged their “parliamentary and extra-parliamentary partners,” including the opposition, to work together in achieving that goal. But opposition leaders scoffed at the proposal, questioning the coalition parties’ commitment to democracy.

Hakob Hakobian, a pro-Kocharian lawmaker critical of the coalition, also dismissed the statement. “Of course, it will not work,” he said. “They will do everything to boost their standing by discrediting each other.”

The three governing parties were given posts in Kocharian’s government following the last parliamentary election held in May 2003. Relations between them have been uneasy throughout, periodically flaring up into bitter recriminations and sparking talk of the coalition’s break-up. At a joint meeting with Kocharian last month their leaders reportedly agreed to refrain from publicly attacking and embarrassing each other until the start of the 2007 election campaign.

But this did not prevent yet another spat between Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s HHK and parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir. The latter protested strongly when two government ministers representing it were publicly singled out for criticism by Markarian.

A senior Orinats Yerkir member, Hovannes Markarian, made it clear that Baghdasarian’s party will not remain silent if it is again attacked or humiliated by its allies. “If they resort to mudslinging, we will retaliate and sling twice as much mud at them,” he warned bluntly.

The three parties have repeatedly stated that they will contest next year’s election separately, and their statement does not indicate any change of plans.
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