By Anna Saghabalian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on Friday did not rule out the possibility of his participation in Armenia’s next presidential election, effectively adding his name to the list of President Robert Kocharian’s potential successors.
Asked by a reporter whether he plans to contest the ballot due in 2008, Oskanian said, “I think I may still participate in the processes of state building and development in Armenia. But I can’t say at this point which manifestations that participation could have. I haven’t even thought about that.”
“I have until now focused on my work,” he added. “I have some really serious tasks: the Armenia-Diaspora conference [slated for September], the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, issues relating to foreign policy.
"One thing is clear to me. I want to be involved and make may contribution. But time will tell how that will manifest itself.”
The remarks are bound to fuel speculation that Oskanian, 51, is harboring presidential ambitions and may therefore become actively involved in Armenian politics. The Syrian-born minister, though one of the longest serving members of Armenia’s government, has until now steered clear of domestic political battles, dealing with foreign affairs and being accountable only to Kocharian.
Oskanian, who had moved with his family to Armenia from California in 1992, was a U.S. citizen until being chosen by Kocharian to run the Armenian diplomacy in April 1998. He had until then held senior positions in the Armenian Foreign Ministry.
Oskanian’s possible presidential run would be seriously hampered by his current lack of a political support base both inside and outside the government, which is essential for making a strong showing in the presidential election. In that regard he would find it extremely hard to compete with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Kocharian’s most likely successor who is poised to enlist the backing of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) as well as a host of other government factions.
Oskanian refused to comment on Sarkisian’s impending pre-election alliance with the HHK and said he has no plants yet to team up with any political party. In an indication that he is not fully satisfied with the current Armenian leadership’s track record, he stressed the need for carrying out urgent “second-generation reforms” in Armenia which he said would “hit the economic and political interests of the [ruling] elite.” “Which political force will have that courage?” he said. “This is the key question.”
Oskanian had warned earlier that Armenia will pay a serious “economic cost” if it again fails to hold elections recognized as free and fair by the international community. “I am optimistic in the sense that our people are determined to make sure that our elections are normal this time around,” he noted on Friday.
Oskanian is not the first former Diaspora Armenian to consider running for president. Raffi Hovannisian, Armenia’s U.S.-born first foreign minister, was controversially barred by from contesting the last presidential election in 2003 on the grounds that he had not been an Armenian citizen for the previous ten years -- something which is required by the country’s constitution.
Hovannisian, who insists that he had been illegally denied Armenian citizenship by Kocharian and his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian for nearly a decade, obtained an Armenian passport only in 2001. The increasingly outspoken opposition politician is therefore unlikely to be deemed eligible for running in the next presidential ballot as well.