By Astghik Bedevian
Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman leading the second most important party in Armenia’s governing coalition, dismissed through a spokesman on Wednesday fresh rumors that he is keen to become prime minister.
“Rumors about Gagik Tsarukian’s appointment as prime minister are baseless,” the spokesman, Khachik Galstian, told journalists. He said there have been similar whispers before and they proved to be false.
Tsarukian, whose Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) boasts the second largest faction in parliament and holds three ministerial portfolios, has openly disagreed of late with some of the government’s economic policies and, in particular, its crackdown on tax evasion among small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). His aides insists that this is not a sign of his greater political ambitions or the BHK’s impending exit from the coalition government.
Tsarukian, believed to be close to former President Robert Kocharian, has again been linked with the top government job amid opposition media speculation about Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s resignation because of the worsening economic situation in Armenia. Sarkisian’s office shrugged off the speculation on Tuesday.
Galstian also said that the BHK and its leader have no problem with President Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial decision to appoint a senior member of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Gagik Beglarian, as Yerevan’s new mayor in advance of the May 31 elections of a municipal assembly. Beglarian will head the list of HHK candidates in the polls.
His appointment was clearly aimed at boosting the party’s electoral chances. It has been condemned by representatives of the country’s main opposition groups.
“Things may be a little unequal [in the election campaign,] but [Beglarian’s appointment] was done in accordance with law,” disagreed Galstian. He also explained the BHK’s decision to nominate Health Minister Harutiun Kushkian as its top candidate for the post of Yerevan mayor to be chosen by the municipal assembly.
“Yerevan is the heart of Armenia,” said Tsarukian’s spokesman. “And any healthy heart requires caring hands and competent persons. So Mr. Kushkian’s medical profession can be useful also for correctly diagnosing our city’s problems and determining ways of resolving them.”