Gagik Tsarukian on Thursday announced fresh anti-government protests planned by his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and its opposition allies but again stopped of calling for President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
Tsarukian gave further indications that the BHK, which controls the second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, will not press for snap presidential and parliamentary elections if Sarkisian agrees to abandon his plans for a sweeping constitutional reform.
The tycoon painted a grim picture of the state of affairs in Armenian at a conference of opposition groups held in a luxury hotel which he recently built outside Abovian, a town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan. He claimed that the “worsening” socioeconomic situation in the country has left many Armenians “on the brink of a powerful outburst.”
“If the authorities opt for rejecting proposed variants then the people will be left to take one step: to force pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections,” he said in an opening speech at the gathering. “People should keep in mind that no government post is perpetual, no post is held for life. If the development and security of the state require regime change, then this is what must happen.”
In that context, Tsarukian singled out one of a dozen demands addressed to the Armenian authorities by the BHK and the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun parties: the scrapping of Sarkisian’s apparent plans to turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic. The opposition trio claims that Sarkisian is thus keen to stay in power in another capacity after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018.
The three parties pressed this and other, mostly socioeconomic demands when they held a series of nationwide demonstrations in September and October. Tsarukian announced on Thursday that they will soon stage more such protests across the country that will culminate in a “powerful national rally” in Yerevan.
Speaking to reporters after the speech, the BHK leader declined to comment on what might happen after that rally. He said only that he will meet with HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and Zharangutyun’s Raffi Hovannisian in the coming days to discuss their further joint actions.
Levon Zurabian, a senior HAK figure, confirmed that meeting and fresh protests planned by the trio. Zurabian also said he agrees with Tsarukian’s assessment of the current situation in Armenia.
“The [ruling] Republicans have failed to realize that the people distrust them so much that even if they miraculously come up with a good idea the people will resist even that,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Unlike senior Zharangutyun figures, HAK representatives were conspicuously absent from Tsarukian’s conference. Some observers regard that as a sign of friction between Ter-Petrosian and Tsarukian resulting from the tycoon’s refusal last fall to ratchet up the pressure on Sarkisian.
Both the HAK and Zharangutyun say that “regime change” must occur before 2018. Ter-Petrosian’s party warned Tsarukian in November that the BHK will risk making a “fateful mistake” if it chooses to indefinitely postpone further anti-government protests.
Meanwhile, Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) reacted cautiously to Tsarukian’s speech. Vahram Baghdasarian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, claimed that the government is doing its best to address the opposition demands. But he also ruled out the conduct of snap elections under any circumstances.
“In order to please the public, opposition forces may have unrealistic wishes,” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azautyun.am). “But we are not going to deviate from our development programs. We are implementing what can be implemented.”