Representatives of leading Armenian opposition parties believe the latest refusal by President Serzh Sarkisian to rule out the possibility of his occupying a top government post after the end of his second and final term in office in 2018 once again proves that last year’s constitutional reform was aimed at “eternalizing” his power.
In a documentary on Armenia aired by Al Jazeera last week Sarkisian says “it is yet early” to speak about his future nomination to the post of prime minister, which, under the reformed constitution, will be the number one political post in Armenia after 2018. Yet, he conditions such a possibility on the outcome of the 2017 parliamentary elections and, in particular, the performance of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) that he heads.
“This is like speaking about cooking a fish while it is not caught yet. Next year we are going to have parliamentary elections and in order for me to consider such an option, our party should at least make a strong showing in the elections,” Sarkisian said in the 25-minute-long documentary, “Armenia: Divided Within?”, that focuses on the South Caucasus’s current political situation in the wake of clashes with Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh in April and the two-week standoff between security forces and pro-opposition gunmen holding a police station in Yerevan in July.
When initiating the amendments to the country’s basic law in 2014 Sarkisian “officially stated” that he would not seek a top government post should the controversial reform be approved by the people in a nationwide referendum. Furthermore, he argued that it was his conviction that during his or her lifetime one person should not be more than twice at the helm of affairs of a nation. In his further public remarks, however, the Armenian president admittedly altered his position as he would rather condition his future political career on the outcome of the 2017 elections. On several occasions senior ruling party members also spoke in favor of Sarkisian’s continued stay in power.
Levon Zurabian, a parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), believes that by his latest statements Sarkisian sends a message to his team members that he is not going to leave power any time soon.
“By this he makes it clear that [current prime minister] Karen Karapetian is only a temporary figure whose goal is to mitigate social discontent before the next elections and ensure the HHK’s victory in the elections, after which Serzh Sarkisian will consider occupying the post of prime minister in 2018,” Zurabian told Azatutyun TV’s “Sunday Analytical Show With Tamrazian”.
In 2015, the HAK campaigned against the constitutional changes, describing a “No” vote as a vote against Sarkisian’s continued stay in power.
“Now he [Sarkisian] is offering us another present that will enable us to explain in a clear language to the people that a HHK victory in the April 2 elections will only mean the continuation of the Sarkisian regime,” said Zurabian.
Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on October 28, Zaruhi Postanjian, the leader of another parliamentary opposition faction, Heritage, also said that the change of the Constitution last year was clearly aimed at paving the way for Sarkisian to remain in power after the end of his presidency.
“The question is whether he will manage to do that or not. And failure of his plans, of course, depends on the Armenian public, on how it will demonstrate itself during the next few months, which will be important for all of us. And it is during this period that it will be decided whether he [Sarkisian] can implement his scenario or not,” she said.