By Ruzanna Khachatrian
After months of confidential preparations the chief of President Robert Kocharian’s staff, Artashes Tumanian, officially announced Friday the creation of his own political party that will compete with other pro-establishment groups in next year’s parliamentary election.
In a lengthy manifesto published in three major newspapers, the party called Nor Yerkir (New Country) pledged to strive for Armenia’s democratization and economic liberalization. It also set an extremely ambitious goal of winning the country membership of the European Union by 2015.
Reports about Tumanian’s plans to set up a party first emerged last year. The official did not deny them but insisted until recently that its formation is not a certainty. The publication of the party’s program means that he has finally decided to try to play a greater role in Armenian politics after Kocharian’s anticipated resignation in 2008.
Tumanian, 55, was a deputy speaker of Armenia’s first post-Communist parliament and the head of the government’s tax department during the 1990s. He contested the last parliamentary election held in May 2003 and won a seat in the National Assembly on the ticket of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). However, the purpose of Tumanian’s participation in the vote remained unclear as he chose to stay on as chief of the presidential administration.
Tumanian, who rarely speaks with journalists, has been tight-lipped about his political ambitions. His party’s domestic political agenda, as specified by the manifesto, is also vague. Nor is it clear if Kocharian approved of its creation.
The Armenian leader already enjoys the backing of a wide range of big and small political groups. Three of them, including Dashnaktsutyun, are represented in his government. They seem increasingly concerned about the continuing emergence of new pro-Kocharian parties. One of those parties sponsored by millionaire businessman Gagik Tsarukian reportedly aims to win the 2007 election.
Tsarukian’s ambitions led some leaders of the governing coalition, including deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, to ring alarm bells over what they as a growing importance of money in the Armenian political stage.
Torosian, who is a senior member of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), on Friday indicated his disapproval of Tumanian’s decision to join the unfolding parliamentary race. He at the same time claimed that Nor Yerkir will not pose a serious threat to the HHK. “I am convinced that this newly created party will not be a competitor of the Republican Party,” Torosian told RFE/RL.
But another governing party, Orinats Yerkir, seems to take Tumanian more seriously. “We will be more vigilant,” one of its leaders, Samvel Balasanian, told RFE/RL.
For their part, representatives of Dashnaktsutyun refused to comment on their former ally’s latest move.