By Ruzanna Stepanian
President Robert Kocharian considers Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian his worthiest successor and will therefore be supporting his longtime close associate in next year’s Armenian presidential election, his spokesman said on Friday.
Asked about who Kocharian would like to be succeeded by after completing his second and final term in March, Victor Soghomonian, the presidential press secretary, told reporters: “I think the president of the republic has already named that person. The president has made it clear that he fancies the current prime minister as the next president of the republic.”
“It is obvious that there is no other politician in Armenia who has that much experience and is capable of performing [presidential] duties,” Soghomonian said, referring to Sarkisian.
The remarks are the most explicit endorsement yet by Kocharian of Sarkisian’s presidential ambitions. The two men are natives of Nagorno-Karabakh, having led the Armenian-populated disputed territory during its secessionist war with Azerbaijan before moving to senior governments positions in Yerevan in the 1990s.
Kocharian and Sarkisian became Armenia’s two most powerful men after the forced resignation in 1998 of then President Levon Ter-Petrosian. They have since worked together to weather many political storms and keep their political opponents at bay.
Accordingly, few observers have doubted that Sarkisian is Kocharian’s preferred successor. But expert opinion is divided over whether Sarkisian would be willing to let Kocharian retain a key government role in the event of his victory in the presidential ballot. Hence, lingering speculation about friction between the two men.
Soghomonian could not say what he thinks the Armenian president would like to do after his resignation. He also refused to comment on the decision by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a junior partner in the governing coalition, not to back Sarkisian for the presidency.