Sarkisian said the HHK should take the lead in forming a new “culture of political dialogue” which he believes would spare the country further political upheavals and guarantee its long-term “stability.”
“The biggest responsibility for and possibility of establishing a culture of political dialogue in the country rests with its leading party,” he said in a keynote speech at a congress of the governing party. “Let us shoulder it with honor. Let us lay the groundwork for the exemplary model of a modern ruling party.”
In Sarkisian’s words, that means abandoning “the claim to being the sole clever and righteous force” and becoming “a party that can listen.” “We must be able to listen to each other and others,” he told over 1,800 government officials, lawmakers, business people and other HHK members attending the congress. “If an opponent expresses an idea which is convincing and better than your idea, then you are obliged to implement his idea, rather than yours,” he said.
Sarkisian also made a case for the “development of democratic institutions within the party” which he said is essential for the broader democratization of Armenia’s political system. “If any internal dissent within parties is stifled, examples of which we have seen in our political scene, then such a party will stifle any opposition after taking up the reins of power,” he said. “This is not the path the Republican Party of Armenia should follow.”
There was no such dissent during the HHK congress, with the delegates unanimously reelecting Sarkisian as party chairman and rubber-stamping changes in the party’s statutes proposed by him without any debate. In what was a serious procedural violation, some of them rushed to vote for Sarkisian’s reelection even before his candidacy was formal put forward.
The delegates also overwhelmingly elected the HHK’s new governing Executive Body. All of its 14 members were nominated by the party leadership.
Sarkisian’s remarks came less than three weeks after his most bitter and influential rival, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, effectively offered to recognize the Armenian president’s legitimacy in the event of far-reaching political reforms in the country. Ter-Petrosian also defended the HHK leader against strong criticism of his conciliatory policy on Turkey voiced by nationalist opposition groups.
Armenia -- President Serzh Sarkisian speaks at a congress of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) on November 28, 2009.
In his speech, Sarkisian did not comment on Ter-Petrosian’s overtures or the specific political changes demanded by the ex-president’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance. He spoke only of the “overall weakness” of Armenia’s “state, political and public institutions” which he said split up the nation and led to bloodshed after his hotly disputed victory in the February 2008 presidential election.
Sarkisian insisted that the “destructive divide” has steadily eased during his presidency. He also claimed that the HHK, which continues to be denounced by its detractors as a state-sponsored vote-rigging machine, is “seriously working on improving electoral processes” in Armenia.
The president further described his party, which has a clear majority in parliament and controls most central and local government bodies, as “the main pillar of the restored Armenian statehood.” “The party must become a model of the Armenia which we want to build,” he declared. “The authority of such a party is undisputed, its strength unstoppable, and its victory a positive change for Armenia.”
The HHK congress came amid mounting media speculation that Sarkisian is increasingly at odds with several other party figures, notably parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian. Reports in some pro-opposition newspapers have alleged that Abrahamian and Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party also represented in the government, are plotting to bring down Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and eventually the president himself at the best of the latter’s predecessor, Robert Kocharian.
The reformist premier and a dozen senior government officials close to him stoked the speculation by joining the HHK earlier this month. The developments were widely construed as an expression of President Sarkisian’s unwavering support for his cabinet and a warning to government factions keen to undercut it.
Abrahamian, whose younger son married one of Tsarukian’s daughters recently, welcomed the new additions to the HHK ranks during the congress. The controversial speaker said the party should recruit new “clever and honest” cadres and get rid of members who “pursue personal goals.” He did not name names.