President Serzh Sarkisian on Friday downplayed recent criticism of the Armenian government’s economic policies voiced by his predecessor Robert Kocharian and said the latter has never left the political arena.
Sarkisian dismissed growing talk of Kocharian’s political comeback which some Armenian politicians and pundits believe could threaten his hold on power.
“When did Kocharian leave politics to make a comeback now?” he told journalists during a visit to the northern Tavush region. “I think that Mr. Kocharian has always been in politics, and I find very strange some political circles’ knee-jerk reaction to any activity by Robert Kocharian, be it a visit [abroad] or a public expression of his opinion.”
“I consider it normal when Kocharian expresses an opinion on one or another phenomenon. There is nothing strange about that,” he said.
Kocharian, who handed over power to Sarkisian two years ago, claimed on Thursday that he has still not decided to return to the political arena. “If I decide to return to politics, I will declare that openly and directly,” he said in a written statement.
Kocharian fuelled more speculation about his desire to return to Armenia’s leadership last month with a thinly veiled criticism of the current government’s handling of the economic crisis. Some local commentators suggested that the ex-president has set his sights on the post of prime minister currently occupied by Tigran Sarkisian, the former governor of the Armenian Central Bank.
Significantly, President Sarkisian made a mostly positive assessment of the government’s response to the global credit crunch and vowed continued support for his reformist prime minister. “I am not going to change the government or the prime minister,” he said.
Such a drastic move, continued Sarkisian, might have been justified last year when the Armenian economy was shrinking at double-digit rates. “But now that the economy is slowly recovering, what is the point of speaking about a change of the economic team?” he said. “I consider [such a change] unfounded.”
Kocharian’s statement on the government policy followed a public spat between Trade and Economic Minister Nerses Yeritsian and Gagik Tsarukian, an influential businessman leading Armenia’s second largest governing party. Tsarukian, who is believed to have close ties with the ex-president, lambasted Yeritsian for stating earlier this year that the economic crisis in Armenia is over. The minister, who is affiliated with Sarkisian’s Republican Party and close to the prime minister, hit back at the tycoon.
The Armenian president appeared to defend Yeritsian without mentioning the latter by name. He said declarations about the end of the recession are “welcome” if they are aimed at spreading “positive expectations” among the business community and the general population. By the same token, he added, claims to the contrary should be taken seriously only if their purpose is to “motivate the government to work more intensively.”
“You can overcome a crisis not only by making investments in the economy, not only with purely economic activities but, first of all, in your consciousness,” Sarkisian said in televised remarks. “All of us must now see the emergence from the crisis in our consciousness.”