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By Hovannes Shoghikian
The governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) will create this week a leadership position that will be given to its newest and most influential member, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, a senior party figure said on Wednesday.

Razmik Zohrabian, the HHK deputy chairman, told RFE/RL that Sarkisian will be offered to become the chairman of the party’s governing council at an HHK congress scheduled for Saturday. “The congress will set up the post of council chairman and will probably offer it to Serzh Sarkisian,” he said, adding that the party will continue to be formally headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.

Reports in the Armenian press have said the congress could go as far as to elect Sarkisian as HHK co-chairman. But Zohrabian denied this, saying that the powerful defense minister will only get what appears to be the second most important position in the leadership hierarchy of Armenia’s largest ruling party.

Sarkisian publicly announced last Friday his decision to form an alliance with the HHK and was formally admitted to the party this week. The move is widely considered to be part of his strategy of succeeding President Robert Kocharian after the latter completes his second five-year term in office in 2008.

Sarkisian has indicated that he hopes the HHK’s victory in next year’s parliamentary elections will pave the way for the succession. He is widely believed to have been behind the ongoing influx into the HHK of various government-connected factions and individuals. Zohrabian revealed that the party has received and accepted membership applications from parliament deputy Karen Karapetian and several members of his People’s Deputy group of wealthy and supposedly independent lawmakers.

Virtually all of the 15 parliamentarians affiliated with the group planned last spring to join another pro-establishment party reputedly sponsored by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian. The decision by some of them to join the HHK gives weight to media reports that Hovsepian and his allies are poised to merge with Markarian’s party.

(Photolur photo)
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