By Astghik BedevianAndranik Markarian has left the strongest indication yet that he will not be Armenia’s prime minister after parliamentary elections which he believes will be scheduled for May 12.
Hosting a traditional New Year reception for Armenian journalists in his office over the weekend, Markarian was asked whether he expects to organize a similar event in January 2008. “I am always ready to hold receptions like this at our party [headquarters,]” he replied.
“That depends on the 2007 elections,” he said when pressed on his political plans. “But journalists knew me before I was prime minister. I have always been open to journalists and will continue to receive them regardless of my post.”
“The question is whether journalists will be willing to come [to a reception] when I am no longer in government,” he added.
The remarks will stoke speculation that Markarian will step down as prime minister even if his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) wins the upcoming elections. Observers have suggested that Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, increasingly seen as the HHK’s top leader, is keen to take up the post and use it as a launch pad for the Armenian presidency. Some have speculated that Markarian will leave the government to take over as speaker of the next National Assembly.
Markarian is post-Soviet Armenia’s longest-serving prime minister, having held the position since May 2000. Asked whether he is “psychologically” prepared to lose the job soon, he said: “I think romantically but am a pragmatist. So I can assess situations very well.”
The 51-year-old premier made it clear at the same time that he thinks the list of the HHK’s electoral candidates should be topped by himself, rather than Sarkisian. “Common sense suggests that I have to top the list,” he said.
Markarian also confirmed press reports that the polls will likely take place on May 12.