President Serzh Sarkisian announced on Sunday his decision to appoint the influential parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian as Armenia’s new prime minister. He acknowledged that he had serious misgivings about Abrahamian’s candidacy.
Sarkisian made the announcement at an extraordinary meeting of the governing body of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the third such encounter held since the unexpected resignation on April 3 of Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.
Under the Armenian constitution, Abrahamian has three weeks to form his cabinet and seek a vote of confidence from the National Assembly controlled by the HHK.
Addressing senior members of the ruling party, Sarkisian spoke of widespread “skepticisms” about Abrahamian’s candidacy. He said he has discussed it with the speaker “at length” in the last few days. Those misgivings, he explained, revolve around “relations with other political forces” and Abrahamian’s “perceptions by various social strata.”
“We spoke about all issues frankly and openly, and I received clear assurances from Mr. Abrahamian,” Sarkisian said in televised remarks publicized by his press office. “Mr. Abrahamian promised to very quickly dispel possible concerns within our ranks with his active steps, clear political messages … and, most importantly, tangible results of his work.”
“I am confident that everyone will very soon realize that the Republic of Armenia has a really effective prime minister,” he added.
The president appeared to allude to Abrahamian’s reputed ties to the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest parliamentary force increasingly challenging Sarkisian. The HHK-affiliated speaker is thought to have a close personal rapport with the BHK’s millionaire leader Gagik Tsarukian not least because of the fact that his son is married to one of the tycoon’s daughters. Observers have suggested that Sarkisian hopes Abrahamian’s appointment will put the brakes on the BHK’s growing cooperation with Armenia’s three main established opposition parties.
Tigran Sarkisian stepped down two days after the BHK and those parties agreed to stage three-day joint rallies later this month in support of their joint vote of no confidence in the government, which was due to be put forward in the parliament.
Abrahamian’s appointment was widely expected to be announced on Thursday. But it was apparently postponed after Sarkisian’s talks held with Tsarukian. The latter reportedly refused to bring his party back to the governing coalition or endorse constitutional reform planned by Sarkisian.
According to BHK spokesman Tigran Urikhanian, Tsarukian again met the president this weekend and reaffirmed his stance. “Namely, the BHK is not considering the issue of being part of a coalition government, that is not our agenda,” Zham.am quoted Urikhanian as saying shortly after Sarkisian’s choice of the new prime minister was officially confirmed.
Urikhanian also made clear that Tsarukian’s party remains opposed to any constitutional changes. “There is no constitutional crisis in Armenia. There is an economic crisis in Armenia,” he said.
HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov indicated that the Armenian president still hopes to cut a power-sharing deal with the BHK as well as the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Both political forces were part of Sarkisian’s government in the past.
Announcing Abrahamian’s appointment to reporters, Sharmazanov said that the ruling party’s leadership did not discuss the composition of the new government. Sarkisian likewise did not mention possible coalition arrangements in his publicized remarks. He said only that the new Armenian premier will have “a high degree of freedom on staffing issues.”
The head of state further stressed that Abrahamian’s cabinet will carry on with some of the controversial measures taken by the previous government and denounced by the BHK and the opposition. Those include an ongoing reform of the national pension system.
The BHK signaled its intention to continue cooperating with the opposition forces as it held with them an economic conference in the central town of Tsaghkadzor on Saturday. Tsarukian addressed the forum shunned by the ruling HHK, speaking of a “severe economic crisis” in the country. He did not comment on the new government or other political issues in his speech.