By Ruzanna Stepanian
President Robert Kocharian will be replaced by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and become prime minister after completing his second five-year term in office in 2008, a controversial lawmaker reputedly linked to the Armenian authorities claimed on Wednesday.
Hmayak Hovannisian presented to journalists what he called a scenario drawn up by Armenia’s two most powerful men for the approaching parliamentary and presidential elections. Under that scenario, he said, Sarkisian will contest and secure victory in both polls, due in 2007 and 2008 respectively, on the ticket of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) led by the current prime minister, Andranik Markarian.
“After the parliamentary elections Serzh Sarkisian will become prime minister and Andranik Markarian speaker of the National Assembly,” Hovannisian said. “What will Robert Kocharian do? Who else is to occupy the post of prime minister when Serzh Sarkisian becomes president of the republic?”
The Armenian constitution bars incumbent presidents from holding the post for a third consecutive term and Kocharian has so far left no indication that he will try find a legal loophole for contesting the 2008 presidential ballot. But meeting with university students in Yerevan last November, Kocharian admitted that he will not be averse to continuing to run government affairs in a different capacity. “Who is better than I in terms of knowledge, experience, hard work and resilience?” he declared.
Some local analysts and politicians have speculated over the past year that Kocharian is aiming for the post of prime minister, which he had occupied for about a year before being catapulted to the Armenian presidency in March 1998.
In Hovannisian’s words, helping Kocharian become prime minister is the main mission of the ambitious Prosperous Armenia party that was set up recently by Gagik Tsarukian, an influential “oligarch” close to the ruling regime. He claimed that the authorities will ensure that Prosperous Armenia, the HHK and another pro-establishment party linked to Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian have an absolute majority in the next parliament. Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and his Orinats Yerkir party have been forced out of the ruling coalition because their far-reaching political ambitions endangered realization of that scenario, said Hovannisian.
The Kocharian administration has assured the West that the upcoming elections will be more democratic than the ones held until now. Such assurances are brushed aside by opposition leaders who maintain that Armenia’s post-Soviet history of electoral fraud will continue as long as the Kocharian-Sarkisian duo remains in power. Some oppositionists have threatened to boycott next year’s legislative vote, saying that the authorities may have already predetermined its outcome.
They will likely take Hovannisian’s predictions seriously. The ostensibly independent parliamentarian has a history of scandalous defections from political parties opposed to successive Armenian governments. He was elected to the current National Assembly from the electoral list of the opposition National Unity Party (AMK) in May 2003 but quit it a year later for still uncertain reasons.
AMK leader Artashes Geghamian has repeatedly accused Hovannisian of secretly collaborating with Sarkisian, a view shared by other politicians and journalists. Hovannisian, however, has flatly denied this.
(Photolur photo: Hmayak Hovannisian.)