President Robert Kocharian will not after all become Armenia’s prime minister after completing his second and final term in office early next month, Prime Minister and President-elect Serzh Sarkisian said late Thursday.
Kocharian’s political future has for months been the subject of speculation, with most local observers expecting him seek to retain a key role in government affairs after resigning as head of state. He has been specifically linked with the post of prime minister. Kocharian seemingly boosted his chances of landing the job by playing a crucial role in the suppression of opposition protests against the official results of last month’s disputed presidential election that gave victory to Sarkisian.
Sarkisian quashed that speculation as he spent more than two hours answering questions from Armenians on national television. He said that had he and Kocharian really agreed to swap their positions they would have informed the nation about that in advance of the February 19 election. “If such a scenario had been possible, we would have announced this before the election the way Russian President Vladimir Putin and [President-elect] Dmitry Medvedev did,” he said.
Sarkisian again asserted that he has still not decided whom to name prime minister after being sworn in as Armenia’s president on April 9. Meeting with university students in Yerevan earlier this week, the outgoing premier said his new cabinet will be radically different from the existing one. It is expected to comprise representatives of Sarkisian’s Republican Party, the pro-Kocharian Prosperous Armenia Party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the hitherto opposition Orinats Yerkir Party of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian.
In his televised remarks, Sarkisian indicated that he is ready to engage in dialogue with his main election challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, only if the latter recognizes his election victory. “If Levon Ter-Petrosian continues to claim that he was elected president with 65 percent of the vote, reject the decision of the Constitutional Court and call me a bandit and Mongol-Tatar, what kind of a dialogue can we have?” he said.
Sarkisian further defended the Armenian authorities’ tough response to Ter-Petrosian’s post-election demonstrations in Yerevan, saying that they did “everything possible” to avoid the loss of life on March 1. He claimed that security forces never intended to disperse more than 2,000 Ter-Petrosian supporters camped in the city’s Liberty Square and only wanted to search for weapons allegedly hoarded there. He said they used force only after meeting fierce resistance from the protesters.
The break-up of the Liberty Square sit-in led tens of thousands of opposition supporters to re-assemble and barricade themselves in another location in the city center later on March 1. At least seven of them were killed in ensued clashes with riot police armed with shields, truncheons, stun grenades and automatic weapons.