By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Hrach Melkumian
Leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) met on Friday with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian to discuss their conditions for forming a coalition government with his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the winner of the disputed parliamentary elections.
It was the first reported face-to-face contact between leaders of the two influential parties supporting President Robert Kocharian since the start of post-election consultations on the distribution of senior posts in the government and the parliament. The talks, also involving the Orinats Yerkir party, have not produced any agreement yet.
A Dashnaktsutyun spokesman, Gegham Manukian, said the meeting with Markarian did not result in a breakthrough. “There was no agreement; it was just a general discussion,” he told RFE/RL. He said Dashnaktsutyun believes that the three main pro-Kocharian groups should first agree on a common plan of action for the new government.
Dashnaktsutyun, which is already represented in the current cabinet, takes the view that each party should be given the right to name and sack its ministers at will and insists on setting up and running a special government agency tasked with fighting corruption. Its leaders held on Thursday another meeting with Kocharian on the issue. One of them, Vahan Hovannisian, said he believes Kocharian found the party’s proposals “acceptable.”
One of the main bones of contention is who should become the speaker of Armenia’s new parliament. Informed sources told RFE/RL this week that both Kocharian and his most powerful associate, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, would like to give the post to Orinats Yerkir leader Artur Baghdasarian. But many Republicans and Dashnaks seem to oppose Baghdasarian’s candidacy.
In a written statement faxed to RFE/RL on Friday, the Orinats Yerkir leadership effectively confirmed its strong interest in “every National Assembly leadership post, including that of speaker.” The party said it can be “the driving force” of the legislative process in the next
four years. It said it also has a “sufficient expertise and human resource potential” to hold senior posts in the executive.
“But for us, [government] posts are never ends in themselves,” the statement said. “The main thing for us is the realization of our pre-election program, something for which we got the popular vote.”
Orinats Yerkir, which capitalized on its 34-year-old leader’s populist appeal during the election campaign, will control 22 seats in the 131-member parliament and form its second largest faction. The HHK and Dashnaktsutyun factions will have 39 and 11 deputies respectively.
Both Orinats Yerkir and Dashnaktsutyun accused the Republicans, who control most election commissions, of manipulating the vote results. Still, they stand ready to enter an HHK-led government.
A leading HHK member, Tigran Torosian, did not rule out the possibility that the three parties will fail to hammer out a deal before the first session of the new parliament scheduled for June 12. “It is possible that there will be no agreement by then,” he told reporters. “But I still hope that it will be reached.”
According to Armenia’s constitution, the prime minister and other ministers are appointed by the president of the republic without the parliament’s approval. But the government can be unseated by the majority of lawmakers. The Republicans are confident that they will enjoy the backing of more than 20 deputies not affiliated with any party. Most of them are businesspeople with government connections.
The Armenian opposition, meanwhile, rallied about two thousand supporters in Yerevan to renew its allegations that the May 25 polls were rigged by the authorities in favor of the HHK and other pro-presidential parties. Senior members of the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, which placed second in the party list voting, said they will nonetheless attend sessions of the “illegitimate” parliament” to make their case for removing Kocharian from power and “restoring constitutional order.” They said they will push for legal amendments that will pave the way for a “referendum of confidence” in Kocharian, an controversial idea suggested by Armenia’s Constitutional Court following this year’s disputed presidential election.
The bloc’s parties decided earlier this week against a boycott of the Kocharian-controlled parliament. Its popular leader, Stepan Demirchian, argued on Friday that a boycott would have “only short-term effects.” “We are gearing for a long, consistent fight,” he told RFE/RL in an interview.
Similar arguments were made by other Artarutyun leaders addressing the rally. The most outspoken of them, former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian, said: “Parliament sessions will be so exciting that you will give up watching soap operas. And pretty soon we will have pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections.”