Thursday, 20 September

Minister number one spoils the game

President Robert Kocharyan is waiting. He’s waiting for the results of the parliamentary elections, and the new headaches they are going to create for him. Things are getting out of hand. There is nothing to unite the political forces who supported the president anymore. Defense Minister Serge Sargisyan - the second man in Armenia - was the first to spoil the game. All the institutions of the executive branch will be working for the Republican Party - Serge Sarkisyan, who has headed power ministries for ten years, is number two on their proportional list. It is clear that the president cannot get rid of him. In some cases the minister has more leverage than the president.

Differences between these two statesmen arose two years ago, the reason most likely being the gas monopoly held by the defense minister’s close friend, Mikhail Baghdasarov. Kocharyan has been somewhat successful in his attempts to curb the monopoly, and the differences between Sargisyan and Kocharyan have become more pronounced over time.

It seems clear today that Serge Sargisyan has done everything he can to make sure that we have a weak president. By appointing Sargisyan as his campaign manager, Kocharyan prevented him from double-crossing him. Otherwise an alliance between Sargisyan and presidential candidate Artashes Geghamyan would have been possible. Now the defense minister needs a clear-cut guarantee that he will remain the second man in the country. And the only guarantee, in the present situation, is a parliamentary majority. But even that is not unequivocal - everything can evaporate in a second. In all probability, Stepan Demirchyan will play a decisive role. Strange as it may seem to many people, there are possibilities for cooperation between him and Kocharyan. The internal political situation in Azerbaijan is worsening. Haydar Aliyev’s death, and the threat of the resumption of war, might consolidate the political forces in Armenia.

In this case, a Kocharyan-Demirchyan cooperation would be possible. On the other hand, no one can say what kind of offers of cooperation Demirchyan the politician can accept. Whatever calculations the political forces make, they can never be 100% certain. The scenario of rats leaving a sinking ship, characteristic of our parliament, always exists. The majority of candidates have demonstrated talent and experience in this regard.

Serge Sargisyan has several options in reserve, as well. We should not forget that he is the “creator” of the Orinats Yerkir party and the coordinator of Geghamyan’s actions.

And so, we will have new National Assembly on May 25th. It is clear that the new parliament will feature a big number of nicknamed oligarchs, and its educational qualifications will reach an all-time low. There is no getting rid of the oligarchs -- they have money, and they are spending only a fraction of the profits from the shadow economy that everybody has been talking about during the campaign. May 25, 2003 will be the day that we record that we have got the worst parliament in the history of independent Armenia.

The Republican Party will take most of the seats in the parliament. It will use every lever it can - the power structures, the local government, the oligarchs under its protection, the local criminals, and so on. The second biggest faction in the parliament after the Republicans will be Sargisyan’s creature - the Orinats Yerkir Party. Notwithstanding the anticipated irregularities, the Ardarutiun (Justice) Bloc will receive many votes. It seems certain that the five-percent threshold will be cleared by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaksutiun), the Powerful Fatherland Party, the Democratic Liberal Union of Armenia and the Ramkavar-Azatakan Party as well. Judging from how Artashes Geghamyan has been received on his campaign trips, it looks doubtful that he’ll clear five percent.

Here’s one example: nobody showed up for his campaign rally in Masis. People can’t forgive him for his conduct during the second round of the presidential election. He actually joined Robert Kocharyan.
No matter how many times Khosrov Harutiunyan appeals to the voters from all the TV stations, he won’t get their votes. The huge amount of money he spent will be in vain. The Dignity, Democracy, Fatherland Bloc has no chance of getting into parliament either, and will take a leave of absence for another four years until the next parliamentary elections. But that doesn’t mean at all that, say, Armen Darbinyan won’t fill some senior position.

Chairman of the United Labor Party Gurgen Arsenyan, who just bought a TV Channel, will be the sole representative of his organization in the parliament. In all probability, the Communist Party won’t be represented at all.

This time, too, Robert Kocharyan will have to take the Republicans into account. In this context, it’s no accident that rumors are circulating that a post of secretary of state in charge of all the power structures will be established. Most likely, this post is intended for Serge Sargisyan. And if so, Kocharyan’s position will weaken. The only political force that fights openly, and will fight against Sargisyan, is the ARF Dashnaktsutiun, but they can’t do anything to Sargisyan with all his leverage. All the forces who get into parliament, with the exception of the ARF and the Ardarutiun Bloc, will work under Sargisyan’s supervision. If necessary, the question of impeaching Kocharyan, who needs a vote of confidence, will be periodically raised in parliament. Kocharyan is well aware of this. Thus, the drastic changes being talked about by Kocharyan’s circle in the corridors will become impossible.

Kocharyan won’t be able to rid himself of certain ministers and marzpets (governors), either. However, drastic steps can’t be ruled out, if candidates start running from team to team at crucial moments. To take such steps, the president will need supporters in the parliament. The ARF will naturally be weak, and the president is not ready to negotiate with the opposition. Meanwhile, three days before the elections, the defense minister appealed to his supporters: “On Election Day let’s all be very active. We are obliged to be the masters of the situation; we must do everything within the framework of the law. We are the first to oppose irregularities, but I am also opposed to our feeling unworthy, we must be the masters, the masters of the situation in the entire city, without violating the law, without crudeness.” As for what this appeal means, we will find out on May 25th.

Parallel to all this, pressure from international organizations will increase. No matter how much our officials of different caliber try to exonerate themselves, no matter how much CEC Chairman Sahradyan resists, we are going to have to pay for not meeting our obligations. If the irregularities that took place during the presidential election are repeated, everyone’s every calculation will do a 180-degree turn.

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