Former President Robert Kocharian has explained his decision not to challenge his successor Serzh Sarkisian in Armenia’s upcoming presidential election and again criticized the current government’s economic record.
In a fresh interview with the Mediamax news agency published on Tuesday, Kocharian said he did not want to cross swords with Sarkisian, his longtime political partner and a fellow Karabakh Armenian.
“First, a power struggle between two Karabakhis, two longtime partners was unacceptable to me,” he said. “It would have left many people with a difficult choice and become a subject of various speculations. Besides, I myself had designated the current president as my successor, and his desire to get reelected is understandable.”
“Second, I did not want to participate in the formation of an extremely nasty format of three presidents fighting for power, which, I’m sure, would be harmful to the country,” Kocharian continued in reference to Levon Ter-Petrosian, another former president now leading a major opposition group.
“And third, the search for political compromise in Armenia has degenerated into a political retail trade. This is not what I would like to spend my time, experience and knowledge on.”
“These are certainly not fundamental factors, but I felt that they are fairly weighty in the emotional and ethical senses,” he added.
Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) was quick to react to the remarks. HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the incumbent president’s reelection would have been a forgone conclusion even if Kocharian had joined the race.
“That’s not the president’s and the HHK’s fault,” Sharmazanov said. “In the course of these years the president and the HHK have worked very honestly, very fairly and very transparently and, most importantly, gone down the path of solidarity and dialogue.”
That Kocharian will not stand as a candidate in the February 18 was officially confirmed by his press secretary, Victor Soghomonian, on December 13. That announcement came one day after the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian, a businessman reputedly close to Kocharian, announced that it will not field or endorse a presidential candidate.
The BHK had for months indicated that Tsarukian will run for president. The tycoon would have been Sarkisian’s most formidable election challenger. His surprise decision not to enter the fray followed a December 8 confidential meeting with Sarkisian.
Kocharian, who governed Armenia from 1998-2008, has likewise repeatedly signaled his desire to return to the political arena in the last two years. Many local observers regard him as Tsarukian’s political patron. Some have speculated that the BHK would serve as a platform for the 58-year-old ex-president’s possible comeback.
In his latest Mediamax remarks, Kocharian again gave a negative assessment of the Sarkisian administration’s handling of the economy, saying that Armenia’s Gross Domestic Product has still not recovered to the pre-crisis 2008 level. “The economy has started growing, but will that growth be sustainable in the conditions of dwindling investments and to what extent will it be conditioned by accumulating [foreign] debts?” he asked.
The ex-president, who has kept a low profile since handing over power to Sarkisian, went on to lament that he called a lack of genuine political competition and resulting public cynicism in Armenia. “Without competition the authorities may sleep well but the people do not live well as a rule,” he said.
“The government will have trouble countering these trends with calm and serene efforts. We need much more. Something that would mobilize the society, instill faith and drive it into actions.”