Whither Armenia's Political Opposition?
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has not just dealt his deepest-pocketed rival, Gagik Tsarukian, a political knockout. Some now claim that, with the beefy tycoon's formal withdrawal from politics, Sargsyan has left punch-drunk arguably the most combat-capable part of Armenia’s opposition camp.
As members of Tsarukian's Prosperous Armenia Party start to drift away, the party, the country's largest legislative minority, is being forced to reinvent itself. The question is whether and how it can.
Don't expect Tsarukian to offer any public tips, however. “Henceforth, please do not bother me with any questions related to politics,” he said in a March 5 adieu to his party.
Coming on the heels of his threats to take to the streets with ex-President Levon Ter Petrossian, another Sargsyan-foe, to force early elections, it might seem some sort of detailed elaboration is required.
It hasn't happened. In fact, public disappointment over Tsarukian’s backdown, some observers believe, could mean that Prosperous Armenia does not have much of a future.
Though the two have jousted before, Sargsyan’s plans for constitutional reform to set up a parliamentary republic provided the tipping-point for Tsarukian's standoff with the government. Some Armenians have suspected that Sargsyan planned to “pull a Putin” — in other words, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, to rejigger roles so that he can stll wield power and get around term-limits.
Last month, Tsarukian's posturing prompted the usually cool-headed Sargsyan to erupt and describe the tycoon as “evil” and intellectually lacking.
With the gloves off, the president moved to kick his rich foe out of the National Security Council (for alleged failure to attend), ordered audits of Tsarukian’s businesses and legislative record, and vowed to force him out of politics.
Tsarukian himself, of course, has it that he left the party’s helm to avoid conflict. He has not, however, left parliament; a status which protects him from prosecution.
Left running the mission-confused Prosperous Armenia is Naira Zohrabian, head of the party’s parliamentary faction, and a former newspaper reporter.
Tsarukian now says that he will now busy himself with “building churches, schools and working for the good of the people.”
That’s actually how he got started in politics, however. And perhaps a sign that Armenia has not seen the last of Tsarukian the politician -- in one form or another.