By Armen ZakarianThe leader of the pro-presidential Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) party, which made a strong showing in the May 25 elections, remains the strongest candidate to head Armenia’s new parliament, senior sources told RFE/RL on Thursday.
The sources privy to the ongoing power-sharing talks between the three main pro-establishment parties said the 34-yeard-old Artur Baghdasarian enjoys the crucial backing of President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian for securing the post of parliament speaker.
With at least 20 seats, Orinats Yerkir will have the second largest faction in the 131-member National Assembly. The party, whose well-funded election campaign was largely based on criticism of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s government, did particularly well in the single-mandate individual constituencies.
Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), the official winner of the polls, now appears divided over whether or not to support Baghdasarian. Some of its senior members elected to the parliament reiterated on Thursday that they will never vote for him in a secret ballot. The other major pro-Kocharian force, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also has senior misgivings about the choice of a new speaker.
But sources claimed that Kocharian’s administration is refusing to suggest any other candidacy for the job and that the Republicans and the Dashnaks are now inching towards accepting Baghdasarian on certain conditions.
Under a tentative deal envisaged by the country’s leadership, Dashnaktsutyun will get one of the two posts of deputy speaker and control a standing parliament committee in addition to some ministerial posts. But the party is now understood to be seeking greater presence in both the executive and legislative branches.
The tripartite consultations, coordinated by Kocharian, have so far failed to yield an agreement. One of Dashnaktsutyun’s leaders, Vahan Hovannisian, complained on Wednesday that the Republicans are reluctant to loosen their grip on the government.
The sources, meanwhile, said most of the nine government ministers who ran for parliament on the HHK ticket are likely to retain their posts. Only one of them, Social Security Minister Razmik Martirosian, has so far expressed a desire to serve in the parliament.
Markarian, who will likely stay on as prime minister, told RFE/RL earlier that the Republicans will agree to form a coalition government with Orinats Yerkir and Dashnaktsutyun only if the latter share responsibility for the entire cabinet.