By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A small party loyal to President Robert Kocharian joined Armenia’s governing coalition on Monday, essentially replacing the Orinats Yerkir party whose leader, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, formally tendered his resignation to fellow legislators.
The United Labor Party (MAK) was given the post of culture minister and three other senior government positions in return for lending support to the cabinet of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. Under the unpublicized power-sharing deal, the MAK will also name the new chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security.
The party was offered to join the coalition despite having the smallest faction in the National Assembly which holds only six of out its 131 seats. Its leader, millionaire businessman Gurgen Arsenian, refused to comment on the development.
Though not formally affiliated with the MAK, Armenia’s new culture minister, Hasmik Poghosian, is known to have close links with Arsenian. Poghosian, 45, led a non-governmental organizations promoting cultural ties with the outside world before the appointment endorsed by Kocharian.
Her predecessor, Gevorg Gevorgian, held the post, controlled by Orinats Yerkir until last week, for less than four months. Gevorgian failed to retain it despite controversially repudiating his cooperation with Baghdasarian’s party.
Three other MAK nominees were appointed to the posts of deputy minister of labor and social affairs and deputy governor of the northern Shirak and Lori regions. All three jobs were previously held by Orinats Yerkir members.
Meanwhile, Baghdasarian became embroiled in a furious public exchange with opposition leader Artashes Geghamian as he submitted his resignation to the National Assembly on Monday. “We will against a society of fear. We will fight for a free society,” he declared in his farewell speech.
Geghamian derided the remark, saying that Baghdasarian himself is scared of personally attacking Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian whom described as a “vote rigging maestro.”
The outgoing speaker and his loyalists responded by accusing Geghamian of accepting bribes from the Armenian authorities. They referred in particular to Geghamian’s decision in February 2003 not to support Kocharian’s main opposition challenger, Stepan Demirchian, in the presidential run-off vote. Demirchian’s allies privately claimed at the time that Geghamian cut a secret deal with the Kocharian administration.
“You are still getting financial aid from the defense minister through shadowy channels,” Baghdasarian charged, addressing the outspoken oppositionists on the parliament floor.
“You are carrying out Serzh’s orders,” shouted a furious Geghamian. “Why don’t you sue Serzh for giving bribes and me for accepting bribes?” he added.
(Photolur photo: Hasmik Poghosian.)