By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) will join Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s new cabinet only if it is given a greater say in how Armenia should be governed, a leader of the influential party said on Tuesday.
Hrant Markarian, the top member of Dashnaktsutyun’s worldwide governing Bureau, said it does not want to be an “appendage” of Sarkisian’s and Republican Party (HHK) and will not be by “bribed” by several ministerial posts. Markarian also made it clear that his party will not necessarily endorse Sarkisian’s presidential bid even if it chooses to stay in government.
Sarkisian appears to be ready to cut a power-sharing agreement with Dashnaktsutyun and other political groups loyal to President Robert Kocharian despite the HHK’s landslide victory in the May 12 parliamentary elections. Negotiations between those parties were still going on as of Tuesday, with no agreements officially announced so far.
Markarian denied media reports that Dashnaktsutyun has already agreed to take up three ministerial portfolios in Armenia’s new governing coalition. “There is no such agreement,” he told RFE/RL in an interview. “The negotiations are taking longer than expected not because of haggling over portfolios or other posts. Negotiations center on more important issues.”
“You may join a government for different reasons,” continued the Iranian-born politician. “You may simply be bribed by a few portfolios to join that government as an appendage.”
“You may also join it as a partner after ascertaining policies, rights, and responsibilities. We are in favor of the latter approach. This is why [the negotiations] are dragging on,” he said. The nationalist party specifically wants Sarkisian to incorporate some of the Dashnaktsutyun-backed policies into his cabinet’s plan of actions.
Markarian also denied that control over the Armenian Ministry of Defense Ministry is another necessary condition for Dashnaktsutyun’s continued presence in government. He and other Dashnaktsutyun leaders openly laid claim to the post in the run-up to the elections. Newspaper reports last week said the current non-partisan defense minister, Mikael Harutiunian, will keep his job.
Dashnaktsutyun, which is represented in Armenia’s outgoing government by four ministers, won about 13 percent of the vote and will control 16 of the 131 seats in the newly elected National Assembly. Although this is an improvement over its performance in the previous legislative polls, the party is hardly in a position to dictate terms to the HHK, which got at least 64 parliament seats and is assured of the backing of several nominally independent lawmakers.
Markarian further indicated that Dashnaktsutyun is reluctant to commit itself to supporting Sarkisian in the presidential election due early next year. “We are an independent party guided by our own decisions,” he said. “We cannot sacrifice that independence for the sake of some agreements.”
Asked whether the party still intends to have its own presidential candidate, Markarian said: “Everything is possible.”
Observers believe that the 2008 election is a major reason why Sarkisian is prepared, in principle, for coalition rule.
(Photolur photo: Hrant Markarian.)