YEREVAN (Yerkir, Horizon TV)–The Armenian Revolutionary Federation on Wednesday entered into an unprecedented cooperation agreement with the ruling coalition of the Republican Party and Prosperous Armenia party. This agreement entails that the ARF will introduce its own candidate for the 2008 presidential race, will fill three ministerial positions, one regional governor post and the key deputy speakership of the parliament, as well as the chairmanship of two critical parliamentary commissions.
Speaking at a press conference following the signing of the agreement at the Presidential Palace, ARF Supreme Council of Armenia representative Armen Rustamian announced that by signing a cooperation agreement and not joining the coalition, a new political process had been established in the Armenian reality.
Rustamian pointed to the ARF’s traditionally unique course of action and the preservation of its independent strategy, as well as its decision to enter the presidential race with a candidate representing the party as key reasons for not entering the coalition. He also cited differences in approach in addressing certain issues as another impetus for signing a cooperation agreement.
Another ARF Supreme Council member Gegham Manoukian explained in an exclusive interview with Horizon Television that the differences between being part of the ruling coalition and the cooperation agreement the ARF signed was that the party would be able to freely pursue its mission and interests without being tied to the responsibility for all government activities, as a coalition would entail.
Manoukian also explained that being in a coalition inferred an unspoken agreement around and an endorsement for one presidential candidate, an issue about which the ARF had long said it would introduce its own candidate.
Rustamian went on to announce that Davit Lokian and Levon Mkrtchian would retain their posts as agriculture and education ministers respectively, while the candidacy of Aghvan Vartanian might be presented for the Labor and Social Services ministry. The ARF will also hold the governorship of the Aragadzodn region and continue to chair the parliamentary commissions on foreign affairs, as well as defense and national security.
“This was critical turning point in Armenia’s political history,” said Manoukian in the exclusive interview with Horizon Armenian Television.
He explained that the negotiation process with the ruling party and President Robert Kocharian was difficult in that the ARF was insistent on pursuing its election platform, which heavily emphasized social reform and fighting against corruption in Armenia.
“The issue of ministerial posts and other government positions was never the main point of discussion for the ARF, as we were pursuing the inclusion of our pre-election campaign platform issues in the agreement,” asserted Manoukian.
The ARF leader emphasized the importance of having the ARF’s position and program clearly delineated within the government program in a written document signed by all parties.
“The ARF is an independent political force,” said Manoukian, adding that the current socio-economic polarization in Armenia, the shadow economy and corruption had propelled the ARF to fight against those injustices and ensure increases in social and minimum wages, an end to bribery in the various levels of government and promotion of social justice.
In discussing the upcoming presidential race and the ARF’s introduction of a candidate, Manoukian was clear to point out that the party’s statemen’s on that matter were not a publicity ploy, as some segmen’s of society had alluded.
“The ARF always remains firm its pledges to the public and months ago we had announced our intention to take part in the presidential race with our own candidate. We remain firm on that decision,” said Manoukian, adding, again, “we are an independent political force.”
Manoukian also explained that in the case of the ARF-manned ministries of education and agriculture, the ARF would be responsible for its activities and with this agreement the party had leeway in undertaking other activities and projects in those realms outside of government mandates or decisions.
“Let’s try to make a change in the areas of agriculture and education. The ARF has the right to independently impact those spheres,” said Manoukian.
As for the ministry of labor and social services, Manoukian said that the operations of that area fell under the prevue of the government, but based on Tuesday’s agreement that ministry would be headed by an ARF member–Aghvan Vartanian.
Manoukian also explained that both Lokian and Mkrtchian would continue to serve on the ARF Supreme Council of Armenia.
Manoukian also emphasized that while the Republican Party of Armenia won a clear majority, it had to sit down and negotiate with the ARF since the latter’s platform became a topic of discussion during the elections both by candidates and voters. More importantly, Manoukian said, the ARF, as a party that operates in 30 different countries, is a force with which any government would need to work.
“We all know what happened from 1994 to 1998 when the Armenian authorities refused to work with the ARF,” said Manoukian, referring to the Levon Ter-Petrosyan administration and its subsequent demise.
The new parliament will have its first plenary session on Thursday. As a footnote, Manoukian expressed immense pride that the new–fourth–session of Armenia’s National Assembly will commence with the singing of “Mer Hairenik,” changing of which as the country’s national anthem, became a contentious point in the previous legislative session.