By Astghik Bedevian
Gagik Tsarukian, a government-connected businessman leading Armenia’s second largest parliamentary party, said on Tuesday that he will not contest next year’s presidential election but stopped short of endorsing Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
“I don’t want that post,” he said, adding that he is happy with his current political and economic activities.
Tsarukian also argued that his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which finished second in the May parliamentary elections, is committed to honoring its power-sharing agreement with Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), the election winner.
A memorandum of cooperation signed by the two parties in the wake of the elections does not explicitly commit them to fielding a single presidential candidate, saying only they will work together on key issues facing Armenia. Nonetheless, the HHK expects the BHK and its leader to throw their weight behind Sarkisian’s presidential bid.
Tsarukian told reporters that his party, widely seen as President Robert Kocharian’s power base, has not yet decided whom to back in the presidential election due next February or March. “Even the Republicans have not [formally] decided that they will nominate Serzh Sarkisian,” he said. “When they decide, I have will have my word.”
Kocharian has similarly not endorsed Sarkisian so far, keeping up speculation that he does not necessarily approve of the presidential ambitions of his most powerful lieutenant. Observers believe that he wants to retain a key role in government after completing his second term in office.
“I don’t know what Robert Kocharian will decide. That’s his personal business,” said Tsarukian.
The influential tycoon, who is very close to Kocharian, suggested that the Armenian leader might be “tired” of being in government before adding, “Our country and people need his work. He is a very experienced and qualified person.”
Tsarukian also described as “slander” press reports claiming that he is selling some of his numerous business, notably a cement plant in the southern town of Ararat, in anticipation of Kocharian’s impending resignation. “Tell anyone who says this that Tsarukian is ready to buy up his assets and property,” he said. “Let him leave this country.”