The Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) Party, a junior partner in Armenia’s governing coalition, dismissed on Wednesday speculation that it has effectively lost control of one of its three ministerial portfolios.
The speculation stems from the unexpected dismissal late last month of Agriculture Minister Gerasim Alaverdian, an Orinats Yerkir member. The party attributed the move to a sharp fall in agricultural production.
Alaverdian’s replacement, Sergo Karapetian, previously managed a leading Armenian food-processing company and is not known to have collaborated with the party before his appointment by President Serzh Sarkisian. Karapetian joined the party in December, a fact that led some commentators to suggest that the Orinats Yerkir leader, Artur Baghdasarian, was forced to pick him.
Baghdasarian insisted, however, that Karapetian’s appointment was “the decision of our political team.” “Mr. Karapetian has long been a supporter of our political force, has a lot of experience, has run one of the country’s largest food-processing companies,” he told reporters.
Orinats Yerkir faced similar speculation last March after it replaced the ministers of emergencies and transport affiliated with it by individuals with no known links with the party. One of them was a deputy chief of the Armenian police, while the other worked as a presidential adviser. Observers spoke of Baghdasarian’s declining influence and popularity resulting from his decision to join Sarkisian’s coalition government.
The Orinats Yerkir leader was a major opposition candidate in the February 2008 presidential election. According to its official results, he came in third with about 17 percent of the vote. Orinats Yerkir garnered only 3 percent of the vote in municipal elections held in Yerevan in May 2009.
Baghdasarian strongly denied Wednesday any reversal of his and his party’s fortunes, saying that it remains “one of the main actors” in the Armenian political arena. He said Orinats Yerkir recruited 7,400 new members in the course of last year. “I think any party would be honored by such large-scale recruitment,” he added.
Baghdasarian, who is also the secretary of the presidential National Security Council, made clear last year that he will not run for president in the next election due in 2013 and will campaign for Sarkisian’s reelection instead.