Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian insisted over the weekend that former President Robert Kocharian was not behind his decision to join the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and thus enter the unfolding parliamentary race.
Oskanian also said that President Serzh Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) will lose their majority in parliament if the parliamentary elections slated for May are free and fair. “I am convinced that if we have normal, fair elections, the situation in the parliament will definitely change,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview.
“In the existing severe socioeconomic situation -- and naturally the ruling party is mainly responsible for that because it controls the government and has such results -- I think it’s not quite realistic to expect that the people of Armenia will want the same government or party to continue to govern them,” he said. “In my view, that’s simply impossible.”
“The people want change. The question is which political forces can present a convincing alternative to the people.”
Oskanian announced his decision to return to the political arena by joining the BHK, the HHK’s main partner in the ruling coalition, in a statement issued last Tuesday. The move fuelled more speculation that Kocharian is keen to pave the way for his own political comeback. Oskanian served as foreign minister while BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian became one of Armenia’s wealthiest businessmen during the ex-president’s 1998-2008 tenure.
“I made my decision on my own … and Kocharian had no part in this,” insisted Oskanian. “Our people probably know Kocharian well. I don’t think he would hide behind anybody’s back … If Kocharian decides to return to politics I think he won’t need anybody.”
The former minister, who was a U.S. citizen until 1998, did acknowledge, though, that he keeps in touch with Kocharian. “In the last four years we have periodically met, talked about the country’s problems and analyzed the situation,” he said. “And I will continue meeting him. But we haven’t devised any programs together.”
Membership in the BHK, continued Oskanian, is simply “the most effective way of returning to politics.” He described Tsarukian’s party, which has four ministerial portfolios in the Sarkisian government, as a “platform uniting individuals interested in Armenia’s development.”
Oskanian further claimed that he is not primarily motivated by a desire to regain a high-level position in government. “The main objective of my joining Prosperous Armenia is to contribute to the party’s success and try to change the situation in the parliament by means of free and fair elections,” he said, adding that the election outcome will determine his “role in further developments.”
Senior HHK figures have already made clear that the presidential party intends to retain its solid majority in the National Assembly. Opposition leaders portray such statements as a clear indication that the authorities are not serious about their pledges to ensure the proper conduct of the vote. Oskanian chided the HHK late last month for “the utilization of administrative resources this early in the pre-electoral period.”
The Syrian-born politician sounded more upbeat about the election conduct in the RFE/RL interview. “I am optimistic or I want to be optimistic that there will be fewer vote irregularities this time around,” he said.
In a joint declaration signed in February 2011, Sarkisian and Tsarukian said their parties will not “strive to increase their political weight through contesting against each other or changing correlation of forces within the [governing] Coalition” in the 2012 elections. The two men last week reportedly agreed to contest the polls in “an atmosphere of mutual tolerance.”
Still, Oskanian spoke of “real competition” between the HHK and the BHK. “Each side will be guided by its own interests and will not cede its positions,” he said.