By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) will not support Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian in next year’s presidential election and will nominate its own candidate instead, a leader of the influential pro-establishment party said on Friday.
“I am sure that that person will be a member of the party,” Armen Rustamian said of the presidential candidate to be backed by Dashnaktsutyun. The candidate will be chosen at a party congress this autumn, he said.
Rustamian’s remarks are the most explicit indication that Dashnaktsutyun will not endorse Sarkisian for the presidency despite being represented in his government formed as a result of the May 12 parliamentary elections. The fact that Sarkisian agreed to let Dashnaktsutyun retain three of its four ministerial portfolios fueled speculation that he hopes to win such endorsement.
Rustamian predicted that President Robert Kocharian will throw his weight behind Sarkisian, rather than a Dashnaktsutyun candidate. “I don’t think the president will back our candidate,” he told reporters. “It will be good if he does. But I’m sure he will back the prime minister.”
Sarkisian is widely regarded as Kocharian’s preferred successor and the favorite to win the 2008 vote owing to his Republican Party’s (HHK) pervasive control of government bodies and electoral processes. The HHK heavily relied on its so-called “administrative resources” to score a landslide victory in the May polls.
Nonetheless, Rustamian said he believes that the presidential ballot will be tightly contested and will likely involve two rounds. “I find it very likely that the elections will not end in one round,” he said.
The Dashnaktsutyun leader, who heads the Armenian parliament’s foreign relations committee, further announced that his party will open consultations in September with other major political groups, including those opposed to Kocharian, on ways of ensuring the proper conduct of the vote. He confirmed that it is particularly keen to cooperate with Raffi Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun party, one of the two opposition forces represented in the new National Assembly.
“There is some ideological similarity between us,” Rustamian said. “Raffi Hovannisian’s approaches are totally acceptable to us. Our relationship has always been constructive and based on [shared support for] national ideology.”
“This enables us to see possibilities of closer cooperation and even some future programs,” he added without elaborating.
Hovannisian has had an extremely strained relationship with Kocharian ever since he implicitly accused the Armenian leader in late 2005 of sponsoring political killings and rigging elections. Dashnaktsutyun, by contrast, has been a staunch ally of Kocharian throughout his nearly decade-long rule.