A prominent regional leader of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) stepped down on Monday in another sign of discord within the opposition alliance headed by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Ashot Zakarian, head of the HAK branch in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri, said he is leaving the bloc in protest against its leadership’s decision to cooperate with the governing Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) in the run-up to this month’s parliamentary elections. He said that cooperation undermined popular support for the HAK and was a key reason why it received, according to official election results, only 7.1 percent of the vote.
Zakarian said that the BHK and its senior partner in the ruling coalition, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), are equally responsible for government policies denounced by the opposition. He also pointed to the BHK’s reputedly close ties with former President Robert Kocharian, a bitter HAK foe.
“By contributing to growth in this party’s popularity, which was demonstrated by the parliamentary elections, [the HAK] is helping to pave the way for Robert Kocharian’s return to power,” Zakarian told a news conference. “I’m sorry but I have no desire whatsoever to facilitate Robert Kocharian’s return.”
Ter-Petrosian has repeatedly advocated pre-election cooperation with the BHK, saying that it is increasingly at odds with President Serzh Sarkisian’s HHK and should therefore be interested in a clean vote. He also dismissed a widely held belief that the BHK is Kocharian’s main support base.
HAK spokesman Arman Musinian likewise insisted on Monday that Armenia’s leading opposition force and second largest governing party have worked together only to promote the proper conduct of the elections. “We respect Ashot Zakarian’s decision but I would also like to add that his accusations addressed to the HAK are in no way substantiated,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Zakarian is a senior member of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, one of about two dozen opposition groups aligned in the HAK. The Hanrapetutyun chairman, Aram Sarkisian, said on Friday he will not take up his seat in the newly elected parliament because of disagreements with Ter-Petrosian. Sarkisian also did not rule out the possibility of his party pulling out of Ter-Petrosian’s bloc.
Zakarian claimed that his resignation is not connected with Sarkisian’s move. Like the Hanrapetutyun leader, he also said that he did not publicize his differences with the HAK leadership before the elections in order not to undermine the bloc’s electoral performance.
Zakarian was among dozens of Ter-Petrosian loyalists who were controversially arrested and jailed in the wake of the disputed February 2008 presidential election. He was set free in June 2009 in accordance with a general amnesty declared by the authorities.
HAK spokesman Musinian also downplayed Hanrapetutyun’s rift with the bloc’s leadership. “Such issues do not worry us,” he said.
But Petros Makeyan, the leader of Democratic Fatherland, a small party also affiliated with the HAK, was concerned, saying that Hanrapetutyun’s exit would be a serious blow to the bloc. “I think it would be wrong to ignore that,” he said.
Makeyan himself has been openly critical of Ter-Petrosian’s overtures to the BHK and reluctance to embrace more radical methods of struggle against the government. He said on Monday that the HAK should either refuse to take up its seven seats in the newly elected National Assembly or combine its parliamentary activities with a more active “struggle on the street.”
Ter-Petrosian made clear last week that the HAK will not spurn its parliamentary mandates despite considering the official vote results fraudulent.