By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian announced late Wednesday the widely anticipated appointment of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian as Armenia’s new prime minister.
In a separate presidential decree signed the same day, Sarkisian was relieved of defense minister’s duties which he has performed for nearly seven years. It was not immediately clear who will run the Defense Ministry until the formation of a new government required by Armenian constitution.
The constitution gives Sarkisian 20 days to form his cabinet and have its composition endorsed by the president of the republic. He will then have another 20 days to submit the cabinet’s plan of actions to parliament for approval, meaning that the outgoing National Assembly will almost certainly be unable to vote on it because of parliamentary elections scheduled for May 12.
In any case, Sarkisian, who has long had the reputation of Armenia’s second most powerful man, will have to step down immediately after the elections in line with another constitutional requirement. He will likely be re-appointed prime minister if his Republican Party (HHK) win the vote.
Sarkisian’s appointment was essentially decided by Kocharian and leaders of the HHK and two other government parties the day after the sudden death on March 25 of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, also a Republican. They agreed that the HHK should continue to control the post by virtue of having the largest parliament faction.
Even before Markarian’s death, Sarkisian, 52, was believed to be planning to become prime minister as part of his apparent strategy of succeeding Kocharian as Armenia’s president early next year.
A native of Nagorno-Karabakh and philologist by education, Sarkisian rose to prominence during the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. He commanded Karabakh Armenian forces before being named Armenia’s defense minister in 1993. He later served as minister of interior and national security and briefly headed Kocharian’s staff until the start of his second stint as a defense minister in May 2000.