Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian said on Wednesday that he will make sweeping and unexpected personnel changes in his government after taking over as Armenia’s new president early next month.
Sarkisian insisted that he has not yet decided who should succeed him as prime minister and is still considering “a number of candidacies” for the post. He did not specify if outgoing President Robert Kocharian is one of them.
Kocharian has long been linked with the job, having famously stated that he has no intention to become “Armenia’s youngest pensioner” after completing his second and final term in office. Some local observers believe that chances of Kocharian becoming prime minister have increased in the wake of the February 19 presidential election. They point to his crucial role in the enforcement of the official vote results that gave victory to Sarkisian.
“There will be changes [in the make-up of the government] which many people do not expect,” Sarkisian said at a meeting with university students in Yerevan. “I’m not saying that I will fire everyone. But it will be the first serious step by the newly elected president of Armenia.”
The new Armenian cabinet will likely comprise representatives of Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), the pro-Kocharian Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). The president-elect has also promised to give ministerial posts to the Orinats Yerkir Party of Artur Baghdasarian, a former parliament speaker and major presidential candidate. It was announced on February 29 that as part of his power-sharing deal with Sarkisian, Baghdasarian will be appointed as secretary of Armenia’s largely ceremonial National Security Council.
One of the students reminded Sarkisian that Kocharian publicly accused Baghdasarian of high treason in May last year after the ex-speaker called for Western pressure on the Armenian government in a secretly recorded conversation with a British diplomat in Yerevan. “Do you think that Kocharian’s attitude towards Artur Baghdasarian can not differ from Serzh Sarkisian’s?” replied Sarkisian. “If you think so, you are wrong.”
The outgoing premier also defended the use of lethal force against thousands of supporters of his main election challenger, Levon Ter-Petrosian, who demonstrated in Yerevan on March 1. He said they were wrong to clash with security forces even if the latter made “mistakes” during the dispersal earlier in the day of Ter-Petrosian’s tent camp outside the city’s Opera House.
“Even if the police made a mistake outside the Opera, nobody had the right to behave like that,” he said. “If the organizers were civilized people and cared about Armenia a little, they could calm down those people and protest in a legal way.”
Sarkisian further stated that the unrest not only tarnished Armenia’s image abroad but could complicate a near-term settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “Of course, the events of March 1 did not help the matter,” he said. “The president of Armenia will not have a strong hand because regardless of who was guilty and what happened, the international standing of our country has been dealt a blow.”
The Kocharian-Sarkisian duo and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev are understood to have agreed on the main points of a framework peace accord put forward by the U.S., Russian and French mediators last November. Analysts regards this as a major factor behind the lack of strong Western pressure on Yerevan in the wake of the disputed election and the bloody crackdown on the Armenian opposition.
Sarkisian said he plans to meet Aliev “one or two months” after his inauguration slated for April 9.