By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) appeared to have publicly laid claim on Wednesday to the crucial post of defense minister in Armenia’s new government to be formed as a result of Saturday’s parliamentary elections.
Campaigning in Yerevan’s western Ajapnyak district, leaders of the influential party also reiterated that they will quit the government if the vote falls short of democratic standards or if the next National Assembly is dominated by other political groups.
One of them, Armen Rustamian, made it clear that Dashnaktsutyun can only be part of a “national government” in which the ministers of education and defense represent political parties espousing a “national ideology.”
“Those are political posts, and it is only political forces that have to assume political posts,” he told more than two hundred supporters attending the campaign rally. “Our greatest misfortune is that very often political posts are assumed by those who do not represent a political force or a party. We must put an end to this.”
“The country must be governed by political parties,” said another Dashnaktsutyun leader, Social Security Minister Aghvan Hovsepian. “The world doesn’t know of a better system of governance.”
The party loyal to President Robert Kocharian is represented in his current cabinet with four ministers that are in charge of education, social programs, healthcare, and agriculture. It has long been seeking to extend its government presence to the military or security agencies. Its leaders have made no secret of their desire to see Artur Aghabekian, who resigned as deputy defense minister to run for parliament on the Dashnaktsutyun ticket earlier this year, become Armenia’s next defense minister.
The post became vacant last month after its previous longtime holder, Serzh Sarkisian, was appointed prime minister in place of the late Andranik Markarian. Many expected it to be given to Aghabekian, considering the fact that he is a figure close to Sarkisian.
Sources close to the Armenian leadership say the latter tried hard to convince Kocharian to appoint Aghabekian as defense minister. However, Kocharian chose to give the job to Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian, a career military officer who has previously headed the Armenian army’s General Staff.
Speaking to RFE/RL after his speech, Rustamian did not deny that Dashnaktsutyun is unhappy with the decision and thinks that Harutiunian must be replaced after the elections. “There must be a political leadership at the Defense Ministry,” he said. “The defense sphere must be reformed. Military service must be separated from the political management of defense.”
Vahan Hovannisian, another leading member of Dashnaktsutyun, also exposed the party’s disaffection with the situation as he addressed the small crowd. “Some say political posts must not be held by representatives of political parties,” he said. “But who should hold them? He who pays a bigger bribe?”
Dashnaktsutyun controls only 11 of the 131 seats in the outgoing Armenian parliament, and needs to have more seats in the next legislature in order to play a larger role in the executive. Vartanian sounded optimistic on that score, saying that his party will have a “much weightier presence in the state system” after the elections.
But Rustamian was more cautious, repeating his earlier remarks that Dashnaktsutyun will not join a coalition government led by parties enjoying a comfortable majority in parliament. He clearly referred to the two election frontrunners: Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and the Prosperous Armenia Party of pro-Kocharian businessman Gagik Tsarukian.
“We will never be the fifth wheel of a coalition,” Rustamian told RFE/RL. “Secondly, we will never be part of a government formed by a dubiously elected National Assembly.”
Hovannisian issued a similar warning that may well have been primarily addressed to the HHK. “Those who try to distort the vote of our people in this election will deal with both laws of the Republic of Armenia and with Dashnaktsutyun, and there won’t be any forgiveness,” he said in his speech.