By Emil Danielyan and Astghik Bedevian
President Robert Kocharian presented the newly appointed Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian to members of Armenia’s interim government on Thursday, praising him as a “hard-working and honest” individual with plenty of political experience.
“I have personally known him for a very long time,” Kocharian said at the start of a weekly cabinet session. “He is a hard-working, honest and consistent individual. I am convinced that he is able to lead the government in this critical period, especially considering the fact that we don’t have anybody else with so much experience.”
Kocharian specifically referred Sarkisian’s track record at the Armenian Defense Ministry which he has headed for nearly seven years preceding his appointment as prime minister. “Serzh Sarkisian’s contribution to the strengthening of our army is difficult to overestimate,” he said in remarks broadcast by state television.
Kocharian and Sarkisian are both natives of Nagorno-Karabakh, having governed the disputed territory before moving to senior government positions in Yerevan in 1997 and 1993 respectively.
Sarkisian, who made no public statements on Thursday, was named prime minister late Wednesday ten days after the sudden death of the previous premier, Andranik Markarian. The development formalized his long-standing status as Armenia’s second most powerful leader. He is also certain to become the undisputed leader of the governing Republican Party (HHK), of which Markarian was the chairman.
The HHK and two other parties represented in the government welcomed Kocharian’s choice of the prime minister, saying that it is logical and will maintain political stability in the country ahead of the May 12 parliamentary elections. “The organization that won the plurality of votes [in the last elections] has the right to name a prime minister, which is what it has done,” said Hrant Markarian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the HHK’s junior partner in the governing coalition.
Opposition leaders, however, were unimpressed by the move, telling RFE/RL that it will have no impact on the political and economic situation in the country.
“With Serzh Sarkisian’s appointment nothing will change,” said Vazgen Manukian of the National Democratic Union. “Robert Kocharian could have used this opportunity to introduce at least a little change. But things will remain as they are.”
“If [positive] changes were to occur, then every sensible person would have reason to say that Serzh Sarkisian sabotaged Andranik Markarian’s work,” agreed Artashes Geghamian of the National Unity Party. “I don’t think that [Kocharian and Sarkisian] had good intentions and that those intentions were thwarted by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.”
“Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian have been the masters of this country for the last eight years. So nothing has changed in the balance of forces,” said Geghamian.
Aram Sarkisian, another, more radical oppositionist who briefly served as prime minister in 1999-2000, scoffed at Kocharian’s praise of his longtime chief associate. “Kocharian had presented me [to the cabinet] just like that,” he said. “There is no originality in his actions.”
“They have become very predictable in all areas, including domestic and foreign policies and the economic sphere,” he said of the president and the prime minister. “They have concentrated everything in one place, and the society now has a clear target. We will try to hit it during these elections.”
(Photolur photo: Kocharian and Sarkisian arrive at the cabinet meeting.)