The outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian’s preferred successor met lawmakers representing the ruling Republican Party (HHK) on Monday at the start of political consultations which he has said will help him decide whether to become Armenia’s next president.
The HHK’s governing board unanimously accepted on January 19 Sarkisian’s proposal to nominate Armen Sarkissian (no relation), Armenia’s ambassador to Britain, for the post. The latter did not immediately accept the nomination. He said he needs to talk to major political parties, civic groups, prominent intellectuals and “business circles” before making a “final decision.”
Sarkissian, who had briefly served as Armenian prime minister, repeated that statement when he was approached by reporters after the meeting with members of the HHK’s parliamentary faction. He refused to comment further. Sarkissian met with leaders of the HHK’s junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, later in the evening.
The HHK’s parliamentary leader, Vahram Baghdasarian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) earlier in the day that he and his colleagues expect their potential presidential candidate to give a short speech before answering their questions. He made clear that the ruling party will continue to support his candidacy regardless of the course of the meeting.
“Armen Sarkissian could get clearer ideas as a result of this meeting,” said Baghdasarian. “This is why he will be meeting with political forces.”
The next Armenian president will be elected by the parliament, rather than popular vote, and unlike the previous heads of state, will have largely ceremonial powers. President Sarkisian expressed hope on January 19 that should he decide to accept the HHK nomination the former prime minister would try to win the backing of the three other political groups represented in the National Assembly.
One of them, the opposition Yelk alliance, has already made clear that it would vote against Armen Sarkissian. Yelk’s Edmon Marukian said on Monday that he and other leaders of the bloc have nonetheless accepted Sarkissian’s proposal to meet. The meeting will take place next week, said Marukian.
It is not clear when Sarkissian will meet with representatives of the Tsarukian Bloc, the second largest parliamentary force which also claims to be in opposition to the government. According to a senior Tsarukian Bloc member, Mikael Melkumian, no agreements to that effect have been reached yet.
Sarkissian, 64, has lived in London for nearly three decades. A physicist and mathematician by education, he worked at the Cambridge University before being appointed as newly independent Armenia’s first ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1991. He served as prime minister for four months in 1996-1997 before being again named ambassador in London in 1998.
Sarkissian’s second ambassadorial term was cut short in 1999 by then President Robert Kocharian. The ex-premier stayed in the UK and made a big fortune there in the following years. He was named ambassador for a third time in 2013.