YEREVAN — In a rare public statement that will stoke speculation about his political comeback, former President Robert Kocharian has backed businessman Gagik Tsarukian in a spat with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
In an interview with the Mediamax news agency published late on Monday, Kocharian said he exerted considerable influence on the party led by his successor Serzh Sarkisian and deserves credit for its past electoral successes. He also stressed that Armenia’s next parliamentary elections should be democratic(?), describing as an “imperative” the need to have “fair political competition” in the upcoming parliamentary elections
Some HHK representatives hit back on Tuesday with comments that threatened to cause a potentially far-reaching rift with the ex-president.
Kocharian’s interview was prompted by the HHK’s latest argument with Tsarukian and his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in Sarkisian’s governing coalition. It was sparked by Tsarukian’s January 29 claim that Kocharian could have headed the HHK if he had wanted to. The remark drew stern rebukes from top HHK representatives.
A BHK spokesman scoffed at the criticism before Tsarukian tried to lower the temperature in the row last week. The tycoon, who is reputed to be close to Kocharian, said he “did not mean to offend” the HHK and its leader.
“The nature of the unfolded debate showed that, unfortunately, some politicians have an extremely short memory,” Kocharian said, referring to Tsarukian’s critics.
“I think few people doubted at that time that as a president, I am able to not only form but lead (both formally and informally) the [HHK-controlled] parliamentary majority,” he told Mediamax. “I simply chose a different model of interaction with the parliament and parties, which was more effective at that time and enabled the president to fully concentrate on state governance, while retaining a large room for maneuver in internal political affairs.”
Kocharian said he personally strengthened the HHK during his 1998-2008 presidency by “advising” many government officials to join it. “Incidentally, many of them now sit on the party’s governing bodies,” he noted.
“In 2003 and 2007, every single name on the HHK’s electoral slates was agreed with me,” Kocharian continued, referring to disputed parliamentary elections swept by the party.
“But all this is history now, and it doesn’t matter who could have done what but hasn’t, or vice versa. What I find imperative now is the need for fair political competition in the upcoming parliamentary elections,” he said.
Kocharian did not specify whom he will support in the elections due in May 2012 or whether he will be involved in the race in any way. Media commentators have speculated over the past year that he is keen to return to government in some capacity through the BHK.
Tsarukian’s party has expressed its intention to make a strong showing in the polls. So has the more powerful HHK.
Commenting on Kocharian’s remarks, the HHK’s chief spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, said the party, officially headed by Sarkisian since 2008, was the ex-president’s main support base throughout his decade-long rule. But, he stressed, it has been and will be “consolidated around Serzh Sarkisian.”
“And since the second president also looks to the future, I must say that we associate our present and future with the implementation of our party’s programs under the leadership of Serzh Sarkisian and nobody else,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Galust Sahakian, an HHK deputy chairman, went further, saying that Kocharian owes a lot to the Republicans. “The Republican Party enabled the [former] president to realize his programs,” he told reporters. “Kocharian made a big contribution to the results achieved over ten years, but nothing more.”
It was the first time that Kocharian and the HHK traded verbal barbs openly. The ex-president has until now only voiced thinly veiled criticism of the current government’s economic policies. He has otherwise kept a low profile since handing over power to Sarkisian in April 2008 following a presidential election marred by fraud allegations and a harsh government crackdown on the Armenian opposition.
Kocharian’s latest statements are certain to fuel more talk of his alleged desire to return to active politics.

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