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Businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s return to politics will not make it harder for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) to win the forthcoming parliamentary elections, according to an HHK spokesman.

Eduard Sharmazanov insisted late on Thursday that the party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian will remain the country’s most influential political force.

“What’s the difference for us between fighting against one group or 50 groups? They all criticize the Republicans anyway,” Sharmazanov told the press after a weekly meeting of the HHK’s governing body.

Tsarukian announced his political comeback on Monday nearly two years after resigning as leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest in parliament, under strong government pressure. The tycoon was forced to retire from politics after openly challenging Sarkisian.

Sarkisian and Tsarukian publicly traded insults during their bitter row in February 2015. Relations between the two men appear to have improved significantly since then.

Armen Ashotian, an HHK deputy chairman, welcomed on Monday Tsarukian’s decision to form a new alliance and participate in the April 2 elections, saying that it “could benefit political competition.” Ashotian was among senior HHK figures who launched scathing personal attacks on the BHK leader in February 2015.

Armenia - President Serzh Sarkisian (L) attends the inauguration of a new fitness center in Yerevan owned by businessman Gagik Tsarukian (R), 31Oct2016.

Armenia - President Serzh Sarkisian (L) attends the inauguration of a new fitness center in Yerevan owned by businessman Gagik Tsarukian (R), 31Oct2016.

Some opposition figures and media commentators believe that Tsarukian’s comeback is part of a secret deal with Sarkisian aimed at diverting many votes from genuine opposition parties. BHK representatives have denied these claims, saying that their party, which will be part of his new bloc, will remain in opposition to Sarkisian.

Tsarukian has pointedly declined to criticize the government in his public statements made in recent months. He has faced more questions about his opposition credentials after it emerged on Thursday that his election campaign will be managed by Ishkhan Zakarian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament’s Audit Chamber.

Edmon Marukian, an opposition lawmaker and one of the leaders of the newly formed opposition bloc Yelk (Way Out), criticized Zakarian on Friday, saying that the latter is legally obliged to maintain political neutrality. “As a member of the National Assembly, I consider this [new role] to be absurd,” said Marukian.

Marukian also made clear that Yelk will not cooperate with Tsarukian. “I don’t think that our bloc could make such a decision,” he said.

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