The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) on Wednesday gave more indications that Gagik Tsarukian will step down as its leader this week after backing away from a decisive showdown with President Serzh Sarkisian.
Tsarukian is widely expected to make an official statement to that effect at an emergency congress of the BHK slated for Thursday.It will take place behind closed doors.
Senior BHK lawmakers claimed to be unaware of the content of Tsarukian’s speech at the gathering. But they did acknowledge that his resignation, which would most probably also mean retirement from politics, is on the cards.
One of those deputies, Mikael Melkumian, said that the BHK leader will be replaced by one of his top aides, Naira Zohrabian, if he does decide to quit. “In case Gagik Tsarukian willingly resigns, there is an internal consensus that Naira Zohrabian should take over,” Melkumian told reporters. Zohrabian is capable of “reinvigorating the party in these difficult conditions,” he said.
Vahan Babayan, another BHK parliamentarian, also said that she is Tsarukian’s most likely successor.
Zohrabian, who is a former journalist, herself declined to comment on her widely anticipated promotion. She argued that Tsarukian is still the party chairman.
The BHK, which boasts the second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, was poised to make a decisive push for power as recently in mid-February, right after President Sarkisian branded Tsarukian “evil” and ordered tax audits of his numerous businesses. The tycoon eventually bowed to the government pressure, calling off a major anti-government demonstration in Yerevan slated for February 20.
One of Armenia’s richest men, Tsarukian founded the BHK during the final years of former President Robert Kocharian’s 1998-2008 rule. His controversial charitable activities and resulting popularity among low-income voters have been key to the BHK’s strong showings in parliamentary elections held since 2007. His exit would therefore thrust the party into even greater uncertainty.
Melkumian said that the BHK, which has been increasingly at odds with the Sarkisian administration in recent years, will officially change course after its upcoming congress. But he declined to specify its new strategy and goals.
Babayan, for his part, insisted that the party will not fall apart in any case. “To put it bluntly, Prosperous Armenia needs to be restarted. We need to undergo that transformation before we can speak about its political course,” he said without elaborating.