Armenian President Robert Kocharian has engineered a power-sharing arrangement that puts an end, at least for now, to debilitating infighting among his most influential political allies. Over the near term, the deal involving Armenia's three largest pro-presidential parties could give the president a stronger hand in the continuing standoff with his political opponents.
Kocharian's power-sharing agreement reflects the results of the contested May 25 parliament vote that gave pro-presidential forces an overwhelming parliamentary majority. The opening session of the new parliament June 12 was boycotted by 25 opposition deputies from the Artarutiun (Justice) bloc and the National Unity Party. Both opposition parties refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Kocharian's re-election in March, and also question the accuracy of the May 25 legislative election results. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Under Kocharian's auspices, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) and the Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) party formalized on June 11 their long-awaited decision to form a coalition government. The deal amounted to giving Dashnaktsutiun and Orinats Yerkir three ministerial portfolios each in the current HHK-dominated cabinet of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. Orinats Yerkir also received another political plum when party leader Artur Baghdasarian was elected parliament speaker during the June 12 session.
While ceding some of their sweeping government levers, the Republicans retained control of six ministries, including those of finance, energy and industry. Their coalition partners will run less powerful agencies such the ministries of social security, environment and culture. Significantly, three other key positions the ministries of defense, foreign affairs and justice remained under Kocharian's direct control. The president also retained his hold on the security apparatus.
According to a memorandum signed by the three parties, the agreement "will guarantee that the executive and legislative branches work productively." Among the coalition's top policy priorities are constitutional reform, electoral reform and promoting economic policies with "a clear-cut social orientation," the memorandum stated. Markarian predicted that the new government would produce an economic development strategy within two weeks the same amount of time it took to hammer out the coalition agreement.
Coalition talks occurred against a backdrop of bitter recriminations among leaders of the three parties before and after the contentious parliamentary elections. The HHK, which won 40 of the 131 parliament seats, faced accusations made by other pro-Kocharian groups, including Dashnaktsutiun and Orinats Yerkir, of vote rigging.
The two parties eventually agreed to team up with the Republicans, citing the need to maintain "stability" in the country. Still, their charges, flatly denied by Markarian's HHK, dealt a further blow to the legitimacy of the vote, which was already challenged by the Armenian opposition and Western observers. [For background, see the Eurasia Insight archives].
The key issue that held up a coalition accord for almost two weeks was a dispute over who should hold the parliament speaker position. Kocharian's insistence on giving the post to the 34-year-old Baghdasarian faced strong resistance from HHK leaders. Many HHK members were furious with Baghdasarian for his pre-election attacks on Markarian's government. Ultimately, Kocharian prevailed on Republicans to back down on the speakership issue.
"The HHK stood above its partisan interests because we can not address problems facing our state single-handedly," Markarian explained afterwards. "We will do our best to preserve this coalition in the next four years." Similar assurances were given by Orinats Yerkir and Dashnaktsutiun leaders.
Local observers appear divided on the question of the coalition's staying power. The pro-opposition daily Haykakan Zhamanak predicted that it would last as long as the parties involved recognized the opportunities it created for patronage and corruption. "The only thing that can hold together this coalition is money," the paper said.
Other analysts, however, call the power-sharing arrangement a shaky marriage of convenience designed by Kocharian, along with his powerful political ally, Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian, to reduce the HHK's influence. The installation of a parliament speaker unaffiliated with the Republicans may be the first step in a chain of events leading to Markarian's sacking, some observers believe.
The cabinet reshuffle may have restored order in the presidential camp, but it has not defused tensions caused by this year's disputed elections. Those tensions were symbolized by the conspicuous absence of virtually all opposition lawmakers from the first parliament session. The opposition boycott prompted conciliatory statements from the parliament majority leaders. Even Kocharian regretted it, telling his loyalists that "no government can work efficiently if there is no opposition in the country."
Emil Danielyan is a Yerevan-based journalist and political analyst.