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Armenia’s Oskanian Signals Political Comeback, Urges Clean Vote


Armenia - Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian attends a public event at the Civilitas Foundation in Yerevan, 28Feb2011.

Armenia - Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian attends a public event at the Civilitas Foundation in Yerevan, 28Feb2011.

Vartan Oskanian, Armenia’s former longtime foreign minister, on Monday hinted at the possibility of running for parliament on the Prosperous Armenia Party’s ticket and called for a broad-based “civic movement” for the freedom and fairness of the May elections.

“Talk about my involvement with the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) is not without basis,” Oskanian said in a written statement circulated by his Civilitas Foundation think-tank. “I have had such discussions with the Prosperous Armenia party as well as with other political forces.”

“At this time, I have still not made a decision, and believe there is still time to do so. Political processes, however, may accelerate my decision,” he added.

The BHK is a junior partner in Armenia’s governing coalition. It is led by Gagik Tsarukian, a millionaire businessman believed to be close to former President Robert Kocharian.

Armenia -- Former President Robert Kocharian (L) and Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian, undated

Armenia -- Former President Robert Kocharian (L) and Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian, undated

Relations between the BHK and President Serzh Sarkisian appear to have deteriorated since Kocharian gave last September the strongest indication yet that he would like to return to active politics. Political commentators have speculated that Kocharian might rely not only on the BHK but also former government figures such as Oskanian, who served as foreign minister throughout his 1998-2008 presidency.

Unlike Tsarukian, Oskanian has made no public statements in support of a Kocharian comeback, however. He has also distanced himself from some controversial episodes of the ex-president’s decade-long rule. “As foreign minister, I often disagreed with many internal political developments, phenomena,” Oskanian said in a 2009 interview.

The Syrian-born former U.S. national has been far more critical of the Sarkisian administration. In particular, he has strongly disapproved of Sarkisian’s Western-backed policy of rapprochement with Turkey.

Oskanian spoke on Monday of “politically motivated pressures” exerted on Tsarukian’s party and, in a clear reference to Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), “the utilization of administrative resources this early in the pre-electoral period.” He also said the proper conduct of the upcoming vote will be of “utmost importance” to Armenia.

“Reforms and change can only happen when there is a new political configuration in the National Assembly. And such political balance can only be assured through free and fair elections,” said Oskanian.

In that regard, the former minister backed opposition calls for the elections to be held only on the party-list basis. The ruling HHK has rejected those calls, saying that the Armenian authorities are committed to making the contest the most democratic in the country’s history under the existing electoral system.

Oskanian said that Armenia’s three main opposition forces as well as the BHK should step up the pressure on the authorities by launching a “civic movement” that would strive to prevent electoral fraud. They should also “think about the possibility of deeper cooperation during the May parliamentary election,” he said.

The opposition has already pledged to close ranks on the voting reform openly backed by some senior BHK figures. But Tsarukian’s party has not yet formulated an official position on the issue.

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