By Anush Martirosian
In a widely anticipated development, President Serzh Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) have officially announced their intention to replace parliament speaker Tigran Torosian by another senior party figure.
In a statement issued after a weekend meeting, the HHK’s decision-making Executive Body said Torosian’s tenure as chairman of the National Assembly is “not expedient” anymore. It also nominated Hovik Abrahamian, the hitherto chief of Sarkisian’s staff, for the second highest position in the state hierarchy.
Neither the statement, nor senior party officials explained reasons for the extraordinary decision. Razmik Zohrabian, an HHK deputy chairman, said only that that the move was initiated by Sarkisian.
That Abrahamian, who previously served as Armenia’s deputy prime minister, has set his sights on the job became obvious last May when his brother Henrik resigned as parliament deputy from a constituency in southern Armenia. Their extended family has long held sway there.
Abrahamian ran unopposed and easily won a parliamentary by-election there late last month. He was formally dismissed as chief of the presidential administration on Saturday.
Torosian, who has repeatedly dismissed rumors about his imminent ouster and said he will not step down, declined to comment on the HHK’s decision as he opened the autumn session of the Armenian parliament on Monday. He said he will speak up only after the party’s larger governing Council meets to discuss the matter on September 16.
“Please wait a little,” Torosian told journalists. “There isn’t much time left.”
An HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, indicated that the ruling party expects him to quit without fuss. “Under the party’s statutes, all members must comply with the decisions of the party’s governing bodies,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL.
Reports in the Armenian press have said that Torosian has refused to tender his resignation despite being offered senior government positions. The HHK, which controls the majority of the 131 parliament seats, is reportedly making contingency plans for a possible vote of no confidence in the speaker.
The HHK’s junior coalition partners made clear, meanwhile, that they will not object to Torosian’s replacement. “It is up to HHK to change the chairman of the National Assembly,” said Vahan Hovannisian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Local analysts are divided on the possible reasons for Abrahamian’s transfer to the National Assembly. Some of them believe that Sarkisian does not trust his chief of staff because of the latter’s close ties with former President Robert Kocharian and may have duped Abrahamian into leaving the presidential administration.
Other analysts point out, however, that Abrahamian managed the HHK’s and Sarkisian’s campaigns in the last national elections and should therefore enjoy the president’s trust. They also cite the fact that the recently appointed chief of the Armenian police, Alik Sargsian, is a figure close to Abrahamian.
(Photolur photo: Abrahamian, left, and Torosian pictured during an election campaign rally in Yerevan in February 2008.)