Former Armenian President Robert Kocharian believes the government still has the option of reconsidering its crackdown against the opposition and returning to the “political dimension” of dealing with its critics.
In an interview with his unofficial website, 2rd.am, published on Monday, Kocharian, who led the country in 1998-2008, commented on the internal political developments of recent days triggered by his successor Serzh Sarkisian’s blistering attack on Gagik Tsarukian, a tycoon and politician who has emerged as a key opposition figure in recent months.
At a February 12 meeting of senior members of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Sarkisian lashed out at his former coalition partner in a speech full of derogatory descriptions of Tsarukian. He, in particular, described the leader of the second largest parliamentary party, Prosperous Armenia (BHK), as an ignorant and illiterate man and effectively called for his exclusion from the political process.
Kocharian, who has long been viewed as Tsarukian’s political patron, in particular, said: “I cannot explain why the president needed that. If the calculation was that pressure on the BHK leader will result in the collapse of the party, then this effect has not been achieved.”
“On the contrary, there are clear signs of consolidation in the opposition camp, as well as of a sharp radicalization of vocabulary and objectives,” he continued.
Kocharian described President Sarkisian’s arguments as “unconvincing”, saying that “any action against the BHK leader will be now regarded by everyone as political persecution devoid of any legitimacy.”
“And taking into account the degree of social tensions and discontent in the country, as well as the BHK’s and its leader’s wide popularity, the more vigorously the government will try to “clean up” the political field, the stronger will be the consolidation against the government and the more so real will be the prospect of political upheavals. It is not hard to predict how this all will affect the economy, the situation on the Line of Contact in Nagorno-Karabakh and the holding of events marking the 100th anniversary of the Genocide,” Kocharian said.
Answering the website’s question on whether the government has a way-out of this situation, the former president said. “I think it still has, which is to abstain from any administrative action against the BHK leader, to remain solely within the limits of a verbal duel, to return to the political dimension of dealing with opponents.”
In his speech President Sarkisian ordered a probe into long-running “unverified reports” implicating Tsarukian in large-scale tax evasion. He also warned of the possibility of the tycoon’s prosecution for other alleged crimes. Besides, at the president’s suggestion the National Assembly is now in the process of stripping Tsarukian of his parliamentary mandate on the grounds of “chronic absenteeism”.
In the interview Kocharian described the intentions expressed at the HHK council meeting as “not fitting into the framework of the Constitution”. He said that the BHK and the opposition are “literally driven into organizing mass street actions, the consequences of which are unpredictable.”
“Our country is already overloaded with serious problems and their solutions are possible only through the greatest possible consolidation of society and on the basis of restoring people’s faith in the future of the country. What has happened, unfortunately, has become a strong message in the opposite direction,” Kocharian concluded.
Reacting to Kocharian’s statements, leader of the HHK parliamentary faction Vahram Baghdasarian appeared to reproach the ex-president and his team. “They should not have led this man [Tsarukian] to a state when he would want to organize rallies by means of violations and calls for disobedience,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
“The government is vigilant and will not allow those who call for a coup d’etat, those who make groundless revolutions and take provocative actions to organize rallies. We will stop it within the framework of the law so that they do not take our country towards upheavals,” the senior HHK member said.