Armenia’s ruling Republican Party (HHK) on Tuesday refused to be drawn into speculation about whether its former ally now drifting towards the opposition side of the political fence will contest next year’s presidential election with its own candidate.
The HHK and the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) shared power as part of a governing coalition first formed in 2007. The two also supported a single candidate in the last presidential election in 2008 won by the HHK leader and current president Serzh Sarkisian.
But the two establishment forces split up in the wake of last May’s parliamentary elections in which the HHK won an outright majority in the National Assembly. The BHK led by millionaire businessman Gagik Tsarukian refused to form a new coalition with the HHK and has not given any indication since then that it will support Sarkisian’s reelection bid in 2013.
Media and analysts have observed a widening rift between the two former allies as some representatives of the BHK claimed to have come under growing government pressure in their political activities.
The case of BHK lawmaker Vartan Oskanian, who has been stripped of his parliamentary immunity to be prosecuted for alleged money laundering, is widely seen as a major retribution for the BHK’s refusal to commit itself to backing the incumbent president in the February vote.
Armenia - Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian (R) and former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian (C) at an election campaign rally in Yerevan, 03May2012.
Oskanian, who was formally charged on Monday, said in an interview with a local internet TV station later that day that the BHK possessed the political muscle to field its own candidate for president. He also said that he was ready to assume the responsibility of becoming such a candidate if Tsarukian decided not to run for president himself. In making the statement, however, Oskanian was careful to stress that it was his “personal opinion”.
Eduard Sharmazanov, an HHK spokesman and deputy speaker of parliament, downplayed the magnitude of Oskanian’s announcement that gave rise to media predictions of a hot presidential race this coming winter.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday Sharmazanov said there was no need to comment on the “political desires and goals” of a separate political figure.
“It is the standpoint of the BHK leader, Gagik Tsarukian, that was and remains an official standpoint of the BHK for us,” stressed Sharmazanov.
The senior HHK member reminded the media that back in February 2011 Tsarukian signed a memorandum along with his then coalition partners committing his party to supporting Sarkisian in the 2013 presidential election.
“We haven’t heard any other official statement from the BHK leader since,” said Sharmazanov.
At the same time, the HHK member stressed that Sarkisian enjoyed popularity high enough to earn him a second five-year presidency even without the BHK’s support.
“I don’t think that anyone in Armenia doubts that President Sarkisian will be reelected,” he said.
Sharmazanov also brushed aside the lingering speculation that Oskanian is a victim of “political persecution” for his and his party’s presidential ambitions.