Gagik Tsarukian avoided demanding President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation or snap elections on Friday as his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and two other major opposition groups again rallied tens of thousands of supporters in Yerevan.
Tsarukian made clear that their ongoing anti-government campaign will not turn into nonstop street protests for the time being. “I’m declaring today that there will be no sit-ins until our trio reaches an agreement,” he told a large crowd that gathered in the city’s Liberty Square. “If there is a need for that there will be a sit-in. We will discuss that issue at the next rally.”
The tycoon stressed that “haste won’t lead to success.” He argued that Sarkisian has already made a concession to the opposition by deciding to “delay” controversial plans to amend the Armenian constitution.
Neither Tsarukian nor the other speakers announced dates for the next rally to be held by the BHK and its more radical opposition allies, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian insisted that the ultimate aim of the three parties is to force Armenia’s current leadership to resign and call fresh presidential and parliamentary elections. His right-hand man, Levon Zurabian, declared earlier this month that Sarkisian should negotiate his exit from power or face a “wave of civil disobedience.”
Tsarukian, whose party is larger than the HAK and Zharangutyun, spoke more ambiguously about the trio’s goals, however. “We must break up the political monopoly established in the country,” he said. “The path to [achieving] that is clear: seek to ensure, within a very short period of time, amendments to the Electoral Code abolishing the single-mandate system [of electing parliament deputies] and contest elections. This would allow us to spare the country upheavals, avoid [Ukrainian-style] Maydans and start jointly solving extremely serious problems facing the country.”
“But if the authorities continue to ignore and reject the legitimate demands of the popular movement then we, the three political forces, will force regime change and fresh elections together with like-minded forces and … with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets,” warned Tsarukian. He set no specific deadlines for the Sarkisian administration.
Vartan Oskanian, a senior BHK figure, said Tsarukian’s party stands for “regime change through elections.” However, Oskanian too stopped short of explicitly demanding that Sarkisian quit before completing his second and final term in 2018.
This ambiguity could draw more criticism from other opposition groups that are not involved in the trio’s campaign. One of them is the Civil Contract movement led by Nikol Pashinian, a prominent opposition figure. Pashinian claimed on October 13 that Ter-Petrosian and Tsarukian are keen to cut power-sharing deals with Sarkisian, rather than force him to step down before 2018.
Ter-Petrosian appeared to respond to such claims when he hit out at “certain marginal forces that consider themselves to be in opposition” and branded them the ruling regime’s “staunchest allies.” In his speech, Ter-Petrosian also defended the fact that the HAK, the BHK and Zharangutyun have still not publicized a plan of joint actions aimed at achieving their stated objections. He said the trio’s tactic “cannot be a subject of public discussion” because that would only help Sarkisian cling to power.
Ter-Petrosian further stood by his view that Armenia’s accession to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is “irreversible.” Armenia will remain part of the EEU “in the foreseeable future” and its citizens must come to terms with that, he said. He insisted that the country will not lose its sovereignty as a result.
Zharangutyun leader Raffi Hovannisian publicly disagreed with Ter-Petrosian on this issue, reaffirming his party’s strong opposition to EEU membership.