In an extraordinary about-face, opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian expressed his readiness on Friday to cooperate with Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) if it leaves the ruling coalition and openly challenges President Serzh Sarkisian.
In a speech at the latest rally held by his Armenian National Congress (HAK), Ter-Petrosian also defended Tsarukian and other wealthy businesspeople against what he called smear campaigns periodically organized by the authorities for political purposes.
Ter-Petrosian spent a large part of the speech discussing renewed tensions between the BHK and Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) stemming from Tsarukian’s apparent reluctance to reaffirm support for the incumbent president’s reelection. He portrayed them as a further sign of Sarkisian’s weakness.
“Of course, it is now hard to predict how far the disagreements within the ruling coalition will go,” he said. “But if it emerges that Prosperous Armenia sincerely wants to leave the coalition and fight for truly fair and legal elections, then in my view the Armenian National Congress must be ready to seriously consider possibilities and prospects for cooperation with it.
“That cooperation could have different manifestations that would be clarified during discussions and would only exclude the possibility of contesting the [2012 parliamentary] elections with a joint list [of candidates.]”
“I am convinced that cooperation between the HAK and the BHK could radically change the configuration of political forces and become a serious guarantee for the restoration of constitutional order and the implementation of necessary reforms stemming from the people’s interests. It could at the same time serve as a basis for the formation of a broader coalition of opposition forces,” added Ter-Petrosian.
He made clear that Tsarukian must also “clearly dissociate himself” from former President Robert Kocharian, the HAK’s most bitter foe who has for years been regarded as the tycoon’s political patron.
Ter-Petrosian likewise publicly wooed Armenia’s second most important governing party on October 1, the day after Kocharian left the strongest indication yet of his desire to return to the political arena.
But that did not keep Tsarukian from stating two days later that Kocharian has “every moral and political right” to stage a political comeback. He also pointedly declined to pledge support for Sarkisian’s candidacy in the 2013 presidential election. The BHK reportedly came under strong pressure from the presidential administration in the following weeks.
Ter-Petrosian until recently regarded the BHK as an integral part of the “kleptocratic regime” governing Armenia. He downplayed this fact on Friday, saying that “cooperation of former arch-foes” is often “not only an ordinary phenomenon but a necessary political behavior.”
Armenia’s first president went on to make the point that “oligarchs” like Tsarukian must not be blamed for enjoying privileged treatment by the government in return for supporting the latter. “Our country’s main evil is not the [wealthy] entrepreneurs or oligarchs but a government system that is corrupt from top down,” he said. “Business or oligarchy is only an appendage and servant of that system.”
“From time to time government representatives deliberately turn the oligarchs into a target of hatred in order to distract the public from their own crimes,” he charged.
Ter-Petrosian already tried to win over to the government-linked tycoons shortly after ending his nearly decade-long political retirement in late 2007. He described them as government “slaves” and said they will run the constant risk of losing their assets as long as the ruling regime remains in power.
Virtually none of those entrepreneurs openly backed the ex-president in the February 2008 presidential election.