By Astghik Bedevian
President-elect Serzh Sarkisian officially confirmed on Tuesday his intention to appoint the longtime chairman of the Armenian Central Bank (CBA) as the country’s new prime minister.
The candidacy of Tigran Sarkisian was presented to and promptly approved by the governing council of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). A spokesman for the HHK, Eduard Sharmazanov, said all 90 council members attending the meeting voted for it.
“Tigran Sarkisian’s candidacy has been put forward,” the HHK’s deputy chairman, Razmik Zohrabian, told RFE/RL before the meeting. “I think the council will approve it.” “We will not reject the opinion of our party leader,” he said.
Tigran Sarkisian, 48, was tipped to succeed Serzh Sarkisian as prime minister even before the latter’s hotly disputed victory in the February 19 presidential election. The president-elect has made a point of making public appearances and presiding over government meetings together with the CBA chief in recent weeks. The two men are not related to each other.
Under the Armenian constitution, the prime minister is appointed by the president of the republic but must enjoy the backing of most members of the National Assembly. The HHK directly controls 65 of the 131 parliament seats and can count on the backing of a dozen other lawmakers, putting it in a position to form a government single-handedly.
Still, Serzh Sarkisian pledged last month to share power with three other pro-establishment parties amid opposition challenges against the legitimacy of his election win. They have not yet agreed on the composition of his coalition cabinet.
The HHK’s largest coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) close to outgoing President Robert Kocharian, appears to be less than satisfied with Sarkisian’s choice of new prime minister. Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK member, told RFE/RL that while the Republicans have the right to name the next Armenian premier, they should have picked someone else. “As for the rumors about that person being an economics genius, I’m sorry but I have serious reservations about those rumors,” she scoffed.
Tigran Sarkisian is known as a proponent of free-market policies championed by Western lending institutions. He had been a member of Armenia’s first post-Communist parliament elected in 1990 and headed the Armenian Bank Association before being appointed CBA chairman by Kocharian in 1998.
The CBA’s monetary policies have since drawn praise from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank but have repeatedly come under fire from opposition politicians and other government critics. In particular, they have blamed the Central Bank for recent years’ dramatic appreciation of the national currency, the dram. The bank, backed by the IMF, insists that the dram’s strengthening against the U.S. dollar and other major currencies was inevitable.