Former President Robert Kocharian has again not ruled out the possibility of his return to active politics, while insisting that he has still not decided whether to come out of political retirement.
“In politics, they say never say never,” Kocharian said in a weekend interview with RFE/RL’s Hanna Sous. “I feel great in my current status but I find it difficult to say what will happen in the future. I don’t want to bring more clarity to the issue first of all because there is no such clarity.”
“There is no personal desire to return, enter the fray, and again shoulder that burden of responsibility. But there are always certain circumstances,” he said.
Kocharian has increasingly criticized the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian, his successor and erstwhile ally, in the last several years, fueling speculation that he is plotting a return to power. He has been particularly critical of the current Armenian leadership’s economic track record.
Observers believed that he could try to stage a political comeback through businessman Gagik Tsarukian, his longtime protégé who led until recently the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the country’s second largest parliamentary force. Tsarukian’s resignation as BHK leader and retirement from politics in March was widely seen as a major blow to Kocharian’s political future.
Kocharian criticized Sarkisian in February just days after the latter ordered a government crackdown on the BHK leader. The ex-president, who governed Armenia from 1998-2008, claimed at the time that the crackdown will not break up the BHK and will only consolidate the Armenian opposition. Tsarukian bowed to the government pressure in the following days, however.
Kocharian’s possible comeback is further complicated by Sarkisian’s plans to transform Armenia into a parliamentary republic through sweeping constitutional changes. Armenian opposition groups say that they are aimed at enabling the current president to retain control over the government after he completes his second and final term in 2018. Armenia’s next presidential will have largely ceremonial powers and not be elected by popular vote should Sarkisian succeed in pushing through those changes later this year.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Kocharian effectively defended the recent street protests in Yerevan against a fresh increase in electricity prices. “When the economic situation is not quite good, even a minor rise in tariffs has a substantial impact on every citizen’s budget and in this regard people rightly resent … The emotional perception of people having to pay more every month is understandable to me,” he said.
Kocharian emphasized in that regard that the Electric Network of Armenia (ENA), the national power utility owned by a Russian energy giant, was profitable during his presidency despite not raising electricity tariffs.
The ENA started incurring growing losses in 2011. Those losses were the main official rationale for the more than 17 percent price hike announced by state regulators in June.