YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has officially confirmed its participation in upcoming parliamentary elections and nominated former Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian as its top candidate.
The HHK announced the decision late on Sunday after a five-hour meeting of its governing board chaired by the party’s top leader, former President Serzh Sarkisian.
Sargsian told reporters that the board approved the list of the HHK’s election candidates that will be submitted to the Central Election Commission on Wednesday. He declined to publicize the list, saying only that it will be topped by him.
Sargsian also said that Serzh Sarkisian will not run as a candidate in the snap elections scheduled for December 9 despite remaining the party’s chairman. Nor will the former president be involved in the HHK’s election campaign, he said.
Sarkisian, 64, resigned in April amid mass protests triggered by his attempt to extend his decade-long rule. He has kept a very low profile since then, leaving it to his political allies to comment on political developments and occasionally challenge Nikol Pashinian, the protest leader elected prime minister in May.
The 43-year-old Vigen Sargsian is a U.S.-educated protégé of the ex-president who served as Armenia’s defense minister from 2016-2018. He was widely regarded as Serzh Sarkisian’s potential successor before the dramatic regime change in the country.
Most observers believe that the HHK is now too unpopular to pose a serious threat to Pashinian. Some of them say that it will struggle to win any seats in the new parliament.
Sargsian, who was elected the HHK’s first deputy chairman on Sunday, admitted that Pashinian’s alliance will almost certainly win the December elections.
“The upcoming elections will not determine who will be in power,” he said.“That question seems to have already been answered, and I think that the prime minister whom our fellow citizens rallying in the streets designated as the people’s candidate … will continue to perform his duties. He has something to prove … and we are prepared to hold him in check in the future parliament.”
Sargsian further declared that the HHK is aiming to finish second in the polls because it is now the sole genuinely opposition force in Armenia.
“I think that if Nikol Pashinian is sincere about his intention to build a new Armenia he will vote for the Republican Party when he finds himself alone in the polling booth,” claimed the former defense chief. “Because he should see no other alternatives in terms of his opponents in the future parliament. If he doesn’t do that, it will mean what he wants to have a puppet opposition.”
Two lawmakers representing Civil Contract dismissed those statements, predicting that the HHK will most probably not be represented in the next National Assembly at all.
“I insist that both the leader [Serzh Sarkisian] and the top candidate of the Republican Party … do not know the people of Armenia,” one of them, Alen Simonian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “And not knowing the people’s troubles and often times being the cause of those troubles, they can’t be perceived as opposition by me. I regard them as a bunch of revanchists.”
“I don’t consider any HHK’s presence in the [new] National Assembly realistic,” said Simonian. “They have already been present there. The people of Armenia have seen what happens when they run their country.”
Another Civil Contract lawmaker, Hrachya Hakobian, was even more categorical. “If they had rebranded themselves, if they had gotten rid of the HHK acronym some of their members might deserve to be in the parliament and might actually win parliament seats,” he said.
Civil Contract is expected to enter the race in an alliance with mainly non-partisan politicians, civic activists and other public figures supporting Pashinian. While it is widely regarded as the election favorite, no opinion polls indicating the chances of other contenders have been released yet.
The HHK won the last parliamentary elections held in April 2017, heavily relying on its administrative and financial resources. It was greatly helped by wealthy government-linked individuals accused by opposition forces and media of bribing and bullying voters. It is still not clear how many of them remain allied to the former ruling party.
Pashinian claimed last month that the HHK still counts on the backing of “criminal” local elites.