By Anna Saghabalian
In a dramatic about-face, opposition leader Artur Baghdasarian on Friday recognized Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian as Armenia's legitimate president-elect and agreed to join a new coalition government which the latter has pledged to form in the coming weeks.
In a declaration read out by Baghdasarian to journalists, the two men pledged to jointly deal with “internal and external challenges” facing the country, strengthen democracy and promote fair business competition.
“This agreement means that the newly elected president of Armenia will be more confident and determined in meeting existing challenges and implementing bold positive reforms in our country and the lives of our people,” said the former parliament speaker.
The far-reaching deal came just three days after Sarkisian expressed readiness to defuse post-election tensions in Armenia by forming a new, more broad-based government involving some of his election challengers, including Baghdasarian. The current Armenian government was jointly formed by outgoing President Robert Kocharian, Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) following the May 2007 parliamentary elections.
Sarkisian indicated on Friday that his new cabinet will include only representatives of the three parties as well as Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party. But he would not say which ministerial posts Orinats Yerkir will get.
It was announced that as part of the power-sharing deal Baghdasarian will take over as the new secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council, a largely ceremonial position currently held by the chief of Kocharian’s staff. The council, which comprises the country’s top state officials, has rarely met and made decisions during Kocharian’s decade-long rule.
Sarkisian said the body will play a more significant role during his presidency. “This is the third or fourth most important position in the republic which I think will allow Mr. Baghdasarian to get fully involved in the governance of our country,” he told a joint news conference with the ex-speaker.
Baghdasarian and his party had already been part of the ruling coalition before being force out of it for their allegedly populist stance nearly two years ago. His falling-out with Armenia’s two top leaders looked irreversible in May last year when Kocharian publicly accused him of high treason. The accusation stemmed from Baghdasarian’s secretly recorded conversation with a Yerevan-based British diplomat in which the ex-speaker urged the West to criticize the Armenian government’s conduct of the upcoming parliamentary election.
Baghdasarian harshly criticized both Kocharian and Sarkisian during the presidential election campaign, alleging that they deliberately keep many Armenian in poverty to be able to buy their votes. He accused the government of “plundering” scarce public resources and hampering business competition.
He also claimed to have received death threats from the authorities. Sarkisian dismissed this as a “pre-election trick.”
According to the Central Election Commission, Baghdasarian received more than 16 percent of the vote in the February 19 presidential ballot, trailing Sarkisian and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. In its first post-election statement, Orinats Yerkir said its leader got “considerably” more votes than were reported by the CEC. It claimed that the vote was marred by “numerous falsifications” and demanded the scrapping of official vote results in more than 100 polling stations and recounts in 200 others.
However, Baghdasarian described the election outcome as legitimate on Friday, saying that he and Sarkisian got more than 1 million votes and therefore represent about 70 percent of Armenians who went to the polls.