By Astghik Bedevian and Anna Saghabalian
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) ended a three-day congress in Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday without announcing the long-awaited name of its candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections.
The official nomination of that candidate was expected to top the agenda of the gathering held behind the closed doors.
Delegates only reaffirmed the decision by the nationalist party represented in Armenia’s government not to endorse Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and to contest the presidential ballot independently. They also approved a shortlist of two top Dashnaktsutyun leaders willing to run for president. Those are Vahan Hovannisian, deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, and Armen Rustamian, chairman of its committee on foreign relations.
In a written statement, Dashnaktsutyun said it will hold another congress in November to officially nominate one of the two men as a presidential candidate.
“We just wanted to know the views of our supporters before making the final decision,” Hrant Markarian, another Dashnaktsutyun leader, said, commenting on the delay. “We still have time.”
Markarian denied that the party is divided over whom to nominate for the presidency. “You may be surprised, but the convention unanimously approved the candidacy of the two men,” he told RFE/RL.
Dashnaktsutyun refused to throw its weight behind Sarkisian’s presidential bid despite joining his reshuffled coalition cabinet as a junior partner after the May parliamentary elections. The party further distanced itself from the government by making it clear that it will bear responsibility only for the work of three government ministries headed by Dashnaktsutyun members.
Its statement on Monday deplored a “slowdown in profound and comprehensive democratic reforms implemented in the country” and Armenians’ “growing alienation from and disappointment with the authorities and political forces.” It also expressed concern at government corruption and a “continuing intertwining of politics and business.”
Markarian said Sarkisian’s victory in the presidential vote would be bad for Armenia as it would mean that virtually all branches of government are controlled by a single individual. He claimed that his party sees a “real chance” of defeating Sarkisian.
Markarian declared last week that his party is now in “positive opposition” to the government. A leading member of Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) scoffed at the remark on Monday.
“Opposition is opposition and government is government,” said Galust Sahakian. “The difference between them is clear.”
“They want to paint the HHK in black and attribute all good things to them,” he complained.