By Astghik Bedevian
Gagik Tsarukian, one of Armenia’s wealthiest and most influential businessmen, on Friday dismissed through a spokesman rumors that his political party will formalize former President Robert Kocharian’s return to active politics by electing him as its leader next week.
Kocharian has been rumored to be plotting a political comeback ever since he completed his second and final term in office in April last year. The Armenian pro-opposition press has been rife with speculation that he is keen to replace the reformist Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian. Kocharian brushed aside the speculation in September, saying that he has “not yet been bored” of his retirement.
Speculation about his imminent comeback has re-surfaced in the run-up to the upcoming congress of Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which is represented in Sarkisian’s coalition cabinet and boasts the second largest faction in parliament. Kocharian is widely believed to have been behind the party’s formation in 2006.
Tsarukian’s press secretary, Khachik Galstian, insisted that the BHK congress, which starts on February 12, will not elect the ex-president as party chairman. “I rule out such a scenario,” Galstian told RFE/RL. “Gagik Tsarukian has been and will remain chairman of the Prosperous Armenia Party.”
According to the BHK spokesman, Baghdasar Mherian, Kocharian has not even been invited to the congress. He said invitations have only been sent to President Serzh Sarkisian and leaders of the BHK’s coalition partners and the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
Tsarukian fuelled talk of his discontent with the Sarkisian administration in December when he and his parliament faction voted against government-drafted amendments to Armenian tax legislation. He said the government should be more cautious in fighting against tax evasion.
In Galstian’s words, this does not mean that the tycoon plans to leave the ruling coalition or would like to become prime minister. The BHK is opposed to any “toughening of the tax burden” in line with its ideological tenets, he said. “While being in the coalition, we must strive to ensure that there are no such tax toughenings in the future,” added the spokesman.