By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian rejected on Wednesday former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s harsh criticism of Armenia’s current leadership but was careful not to warn him against returning to active politics.
President Robert Kocharian issued such a warning last week as he responded to Ter-Petrosian’s claims that Armenia is ruled by a “corrupt and criminal” government that has turned into a third world state. Kocharian said his predecessor will become an “ordinary opposition politician” and face “all consequences stemming from that” if he decides to contest the forthcoming presidential election.
Sarkisian, widely seen as the election favorite, was more cautious in his first public reaction to Ter-Petrosian’s attacks. “Every new government must seek to promote public unity, rather than to attach political labels,” he told journalists. “And if somebody is trying to make a political evaluation of us, it doesn’t mean the people agree with that evaluation.”
Sarkisian argued that Ter-Petrosian himself faced accusations of corruption when he was in power. “If he enjoys doing that, let him do that,” he said
Both Kocharian and Sarkisian were appointed to high-ranking government positions in the 1990s by Ter-Petrosian. They also played a key part in a power struggle that culminated in the latter’s dramatic resignation in February 1998. Ter-Petrosian lashed out at the two war-time leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh on September 21 in a public speech that may have marked his political comeback.
Sarkisian asserted, however, that Ter-Petrosian never left the political arena. “I strongly believe that former presidents always deal with politics,” he said. “Otherwise politics will deal with them. This is always the case.”
Ter-Petrosian supporters hope that he will run for president, saying that he is the only one capable of defeating Sarkisian. The likelihood of the ex-president’s participation in the presidential ballot grew after his sensational weekend talks with leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a pro-Kocharian governing party which Ter-Petrosian had banned during his rule.
Sarkisian, who has failed to secure Dashnaktsutyun’s endorsement of his presidential bid, said that he was “not surprised” with the meeting but did not elaborate.
Sarkisian also dismissed lingering speculation that Kocharian may be intent on becoming prime minister after completing his second and final term next spring. “I don’t see such a desire on the part of Kocharian,” he said.
Kocharian has made it clear that he does not want to be Armenia’s “youngest pensioner” but has yet to specify what he would like to do after his exit. Some cocal analysts regard his apparent desire to retain a major role in government as a potential source of friction or even conflict between the country’s two most powerful men.