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By Ruzanna Stepanian and Karine Kalantarian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian appeared on Monday in pole position to become Armenia’s next prime minister amid indications that his Republican Party (HHK) will continue to control the post at least until the May 12 parliamentary elections.

A source in President Robert Kocharian’s administration told RFE/RL that the head of state has already decided to name Sarkisian prime minister and will sign a corresponding decree shortly. Kocharian’s press service refused to confirm the information, however.

The Armenian leader discussed the matter with top representatives of the HHK, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and another party represented in his coalition government earlier in the day.

“They reached a political agreement that the post of prime minister will again be given to a representative of the Republican Party of Armenia,” an HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, told RFE/RL. He said the party’s governing board will meet to nominate a candidate for the post “in the coming days.”

The deceased Prime Minister Andranik Markarian headed the cabinet for nearly seven years by virtue of being the chairman of the HHK, which controls the largest number of seats in the outgoing Armenian parliament.

Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, confirmed that the main pro-Kocharian parties agreed that the next prime minister should also represent the Republicans. “I think it would be very natural for the post of prime minister to be reserved for the Republican Party,” Rustamian told RFE/RL. “We are ready to support any candidate nominated by the Republican Party.”

“There are suggestions that [the next premier] will be Serzh Sarkisian. If that’s the case, we will support Serzh Sarkisian,” he said.

Sarkisian formally joined the HHK last summer and has since been the number two figure in the party leadership. He was increasingly regarded as the HHK’s de facto top leader before Markarian’s death. Sharmazanov was confident that the Republicans will pick Sarkisian as their new chairman.

The powerful defense minister, who seems keen to succeed Kocharian as president next year, cancelled a planned visit to China and rushed back to Yerevan from Moscow late on Sunday after hearing news of Markarian’s sudden death. He visited the HHK headquarters in the city center at around midnight and left it several minutes later, refusing to speak to journalists.

(Photolur photo)
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