The deputy chairman of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party dismissed on Tuesday media claims about growing tensions and disagreements within its ranks.
“My answer is definitive: our party is more than united and strong,” said Suren Papikian, who is also Armenia’s minister for local government. “Of course, there can always be debates inside all political forces. But we don’t have disagreements and I must disappoint those who expect the opposite.”
Armenian media outlets critical of the government increasingly report on the alleged emergence of rival factions within Civil Contract -- and its 88-strong parliamentary group in particular -- jockeying for influence on Pashinian. Some of them have claimed that Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian and National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsian lead two of those factions.
Civil Contract is the dominant force in the Pashinian-led My Step alliance which scored a landslide victory in last December’s parliamentary elections held seven months after the “velvet revolution” in Armenia.
Pashinian set up Civil Contract in 2013 after splitting from former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress. It operated as a non-governmental organization mostly uniting young civic activists before becoming a full-fledged political party in 2015.
Party representatives reaffirmed on Tuesday Civil Contract’s plans to elect by secret ballot a new governing board at a congress expected later this year. In Papikian’s words, the election will see “healthy competition” among congress delegates.
Vahagn Hovakimian, another Pashinian associate, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the congress should also approve changes to the party’s statutes and program. Ad hoc team formed by the party leadership is already working on those changes, he said.
Hovakimian also confirmed that Civil Contract has received more than 10,000 membership applications since Pashinian swept to power in May on a wave of mass protests that brought down Armenia’s former government. He said the party has admitted only 300 new members, many of them individuals appointed to senior positions in the new government.
Deputy parliament speaker Lena Nazarian suggested in February that many applicants have ulterior motives. The ruling party is therefore in no rush to recruit new members en masse, she said.
Nazarian stressed it will thus not follow the example of former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which had attracted hundreds of thousands of nominal members thanks to its vast financial and administrative resources.