President Serzh Sarkisian said on Tuesday that he does not regard the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian, a former member of his governing coalition, as a rival political force.
“The Prosperous Armenia Party is not our enemy or rival,” he said during a visit to the northwestern city of Gyumri.
Relations between the BHK and Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) have deteriorated over the past year amid Tsarukian’s reluctance to pledge support for the president’s plans to win a second term in office in an election due early next year.
The BHK quit Sarkisian’s coalition government after finishing second in the May 6 parliamentary elections. Like the country’s main opposition forces, it questioned the legitimacy of the official election results that gave a landslide victory to the ruling HHK.
Sarkisian’s party took many by surprise when it decided in July to turn its back on Gyumri’s longtime mayor, Vartan Ghukasian, and endorse the BHK’s Samvel Balasanian for a mayoral election scheduled for this Sunday.
“Media reports that I proposed Samvel Balasanian to nominate his mayoral candidacy correspond to reality,” Sarkisian told a news conference which Gyumri-based journalists, including an RFE/RL correspondent, were not allowed to attend.
“In this particular case, I believe that Samvel Balasanian can best solve problems existing in this community,” he said. “The atmosphere in Gyumri must be changed first, and I think Samvel Balasanian can do that.”
Ghukasian, the outgoing Gyumri mayor, has been in office since 1999. He was thrust into a fresh scandal late last month when his notoriously unruly son Spartak was accused by the police of provoking a brawl with Balasanian loyalists involving gunfire. Spartak is believed to have fled Armenia to avoid prosecution.
Despite the embarrassing criminal case, Vartan Ghukasian was allowed to stand next to Sarkisian during the official inauguration of a newly constructed hospital in Gyumri. Balasanian stood behind the two men.