President Serzh Sarkisian has pledged to democratize Armenia’s political system and called for a “civilized dialogue” in the country while accusing some of his critics of “discrediting the Armenian people.” (UPDATED)
In a weekend speech, Sarkisian also and denied pressuring his most important coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), to endorse his 2013 reelection bid.
Addressing hundreds of members of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Sarkisian said the existing political situation could lead to “stagnation” without a “deepening of democracy” and a “consistent introduction of European standards into all spheres of our state, public and economic life.” “A European-style democracy and the rule of law are the requirement of our society,” he said, adding that “European rules of the game” must become the norm in Armenia.
Sarkisian did not specify just how he address the country’s culture of electoral fraud and a lack of pluralism in the broadcast media. Nor did he comment on his government’s human rights record which is considered poor by Western governments and rights watchdogs.
He also stopped short of promising that the next parliamentary and presidential elections, due in 2012 and 2013 respectively, will be more democratic than the previous ones considered fraudulent by the Armenian opposition.
The president instead dismissed media speculation that the BHK, which is led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian, is under growing pressure to support him in the 2013 ballot or quit the government. “Everyone knows that I have never talked to anyone with ultimatums, especially to my partners,” he said.
Sarkisian added that he only has unspecified “requirements” to the BHK as well as his own party and its third coalition partner, Orinats Yerkir.
Commenting on this remark, HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov said Sarkisian only expects the three parties to honor the terms of a power-sharing agreement signed by them following the last presidential election held in February 2008. “What we require is adherence to the rules of the game from all those who signed up to those rules, who agreed to have their share of responsibility,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday.
Vartan Bostanjian, a parliament deputy from the BHK, agreed. “Obviously there are requirements and they must be met,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The BHK, whose leader is believed to be close to former President Robert Kocharian, has made clear that it will field its own presidential candidate if it wins the 2012 legislative polls. Some Yerevan newspaper critical of the government have claimed this month that the party will soon pull out of the governing coalition in hopes of boosting its electoral chances.
In his speech, Sarkisian also praised some of Armenia’s leading opposition forces for “honestly” highlighting his government’s failings. “We respect such forces, and their word carries a lot of weight in the elaboration of our programs,” he said in a clear reference to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and possibly the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
Sarkisian was highly critical of another, more radical opposition alliance, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. Without mentioning the HAK by name, he dismissed as “primitive” his radical opponents’ claims that regime change is a necessary condition for solving the country’s problems.
Sarkisian also spoke of a “third group” of opponents who he said are “realizing a clear-cut program to discredit the Armenian people, the Armenian statehood and especially the Armenian army.” He did not name any of them, saying only that their statements mirror “Azerbaijani and Turkish propaganda.”
“We do not regard representatives of this third group as opponents. We give them another name,” he said without elaborating.
Sarkisian similarly stated last month that he is “disgusted” by those who harshly criticize Armenia’s government and military over a recent spate of non-combat deaths within the army ranks. Among those critics are some of the country’s most prominent human rights campaigners.
Opposition reaction to his speech was mixed on Monday. Levon Zurabian, a top HAK representative, described as “empty talk” political reforms promised by Sarkisian. He argued that the authorities have still not freed all “political prisoners” affiliated with the HAK and again refused to reopen the independent A1+ TV station as recently as on Friday.
Zurabian said at the same time that the speech was “pivotal.” “For the first time ever, the regime recognized that Armenia is in a severe situation and acknowledged the widely known fact that the country’s number one problem is widespread corruption,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Ruben Hakobian, Zharangutyun’s deputy chairman, was also skeptical about Sarkisian’s promises and criticized the president’s assessment of the opposition camp. “As regards the opposition, I somewhat disagree with that evaluation,” he said. “I find it very normal for the opposition to fight for power.”