By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian was understood to admit on Friday that Armenia’s dramatic presidential race exposed strong anti-government sentiment among a considerable part of the population. He vowed to learn lessons from his worse-than-expected performance in the election criticized by the West.
“The electoral struggle was tough and uncompromising. Furthermore, the confrontation between political forces partly turned into a confrontation inside the society,” Kocharian said in an acceptance speech during his inauguration ceremony. “There is some food for thought here, and we must draw certain conclusions.”
“We must report to the public on a regular basis. That must become a work style. Otherwise, we will have a widening gap between the government and the public,” he warned government members and loyal lawmakers.
The speech also provided some glimpse into the 48-year-old president’s post-election plans. Kocharian pledged to reform “the entire state system” and crack down on endemic corruption in his government. “The fight against corruption, clan-like practices and favoritism must become a top priority in our work,” he said.
It was not clear though whether Kocharian would like to form a new government or radically reshuffle the current cabinet of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. He said only that Armenia needs to elect an “active” parliament next month if it is to continue its slow economic recovery. He did not specify which political groups should have a majority in the next National Assembly.
While indulging in a rare self-criticism, Kocharian made no specific overtures to his political opponents challenging the legitimacy of his controversial reelection. He instead denounced the continuing street protests organized by the opposition as “irresponsible behavior.” “Electoral ambitions do not justify actions aimed at splitting the society,” he said.
The opposition parties, mostly grouped around defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian, regard the upcoming parliamentary elections as another showdown with Kocharian who is backed by at least a dozen large and small political forces contesting the polls on their own. Demirchian’s recently formed Artarutyun (Justice) bloc says it can win a parliamentary majority if the May 25 elections are free and fair.
Kocharian stressed on Friday he is also interested in a clean vote. “It is essential to hold the elections properly and minimize all kinds of irregularities,” he said.