By Astghik Bedevian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) is still negotiating with other parties loyal to President Robert Kocharian over the formation of a new coalition government, Pirme Minister Serzh Sarkisian said on Monday.
“Negotiations are still going on,” Sarkisian told RFE/RL, confirming that his party is ready to share power with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) despite its landslide victory in the May 12 parliamentary elections.
The HHK will control just over a half of the seats in parliament, putting Sarkisian in a position to form a new government single-handedly. Nonetheless, observers believe that the Armenian premier is willing to give several ministerial portfolios to Dashnaktsutyun and the BHK to give his cabinet greater legitimacy and build broad-based political support for his bid to succeed Kocharian as president early next year. Kocharian’s support for continued coalition rule, which he made clear over the weekend, is also seen as a major factor.
“The Republican Party is in favor of forming a serious and legitimate coalition government as a result of constructive negotiations,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK spokesman. He said
Dashnaktsutyun is understood to have agreed in principle to remain in government despite its leaders’ earlier statements that they will not be a “fifth wheel” in an HHK-led coalition and demands that the Armenian Ministry of Defense be headed by a member of the nationalist party. Sources privy to the ongoing talks told RFE/RL on Monday that the recently appointed Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian, who is a career military officer and not affiliated with any party, will remain in charge.
Newspaper reports have said that the Republicans are only prepared to let three of the four Dashnaktsutyun-affiliated ministers serving in Sarkisian’s outgoing cabinet keep their jobs. None of them is in charge of defense, national security, and foreign policy.
The BHK and its leader Gagik Tsarukian will reportedly settle for two minor ministerial portfolios not least because of their worsen-than-expected performance in the elections. The pro-Kocharian party has been widely regarded as a counterweight to the HHK ever since its creation in late 2005.
Sarkisian cautioned that the ongoing negotiations will not necessarily end in success. Asked whether the HHK might eventually decide to go it alone, he said: “Everything possible. That is why we are negotiating.”
Sarkisian also did not rule out the possibility of making power-sharing offers to even some opposition forces, notably Raffi Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun party. “Everything is possible. Just wait for a couple of more days and everything will be clear,” he said.
The HHK leader spoke while attending with Kocharian an official celebration near the southern town of Armavir of the 89th anniversary of the establishment of a short-lived independent Armenian republic. The anniversary is a public holiday in the country officially known as First Republic Day.
The event was also attended by virtually all government ministers. Even the most influential of them seemed unsure of their political future. “I’m not the one who decides that,” Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian told RFE/RL.
Abrahamian was effectively sidelined from the HHK’s election campaign despite being its nominal manager. Sarkisian and other senior Republicans allegedly suspected him of secretly collaborating with the BHK and Kocharian.
Asked whether he is indeed mistrusted by Sarkisian, Abrahamian said: “Ask him. In my opinion, our relations are good.”
Another prominent official, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, said he has not yet been offered to continue to perform his duties. “Nothing is clear yet,” he said. “We have to wait and see.”
Sources told RFE/RL that Oskanian as well as Minister for Transport and Communications Andranik Manukian, Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian, and Culture Minister Hasmik Poghosian will be re-appointed by Sarkisian.