YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Armenian President-Elect Serge Sarksian and leader of the Orinats Yerkir Party Arthur Baghdasaryan signed an agreement on political cooperation Friday.
In a declaration read out by Baghdasarian to journalists, the two men pledged to jointly deal with "internal and external challenges" facing the country, strengthen democracy and promote fair business competition.
"This agreement means that the newly elected president of Armenia will be more confident and determined in meeting existing challenges and implementing bold positive reforms in our country and the lives of our people," said the former parliament speaker.
The far-reaching deal came just three days after Sarkisian expressed readiness to defuse post-election tensions in Armenia by forming a new, more broad-based government involving some of his election challengers, including Baghdasarian. The current Armenian government was jointly formed by outgoing President Robert Kocharian, Sarkisian’s Republican Party, the Prosperous Armenia Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation following the May 2007 parliamentary elections.
Sarkisian indicated on Friday that his new cabinet will include only representatives of the three parties as well as Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party. But he would not say which ministerial posts Orinats Yerkir will get.
It was announced that as part of the power-sharing deal Baghdasarian will take over as the new secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council, a largely ceremonial position currently held by the chief of Kocharian’s staff. The council, which comprises the country’s top state officials, has rarely met and made decisions during Kocharian’s decade-long rule. Sarkisian said the body will play a more significant role during his presidency.
"This is the third or fourth most important position in the republic, which I think will allow Mr. Baghdasarian to get fully involved in the governance of our country," he told a joint news conference with the ex-speaker.
Baghdasarian and his party had already been part of the ruling coalition before being force out of it for their allegedly populist stance nearly two years ago. His falling-out with Armenia’s two top leaders looked irreversible in May last year when Kocharian publicly accused him of high treason. The accusation stemmed from Baghdasarian’s secretly recorded conversation with a Yerevan-based British diplomat in which the ex-speaker urged the West to criticize the Armenian government’s conduct of the upcoming parliamentary election.
Baghdasarian harshly criticized both Kocharian and Sarkisian during the presidential election campaign, alleging that they deliberately keep many Armenian in poverty to be able to buy their votes. He accused the government of "plundering" scarce public resources and hampering business competition.
He also claimed to have received death threats from the authorities. Sarkisian dismissed this as a "pre-election trick."
According to the Central Election Commission, Baghdasarian received more than 16 percent of the vote in the February 19 presidential ballot, trailing Sarkisian and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. In its first post-election statement, Orinats Yerkir said its leader got "considerably" more votes than were reported by the CEC. It claimed that the vote was marred by "numerous falsifications" and demanded the scrapping of official vote results in more than 100 polling stations and recounts in 200 others.
However, Baghdasarian described the election outcome as legitimate on Friday, saying that he and Sarkisian got more than 1 million votes and therefore represent about 70 percent of Armenia’s who went to the polls.
Head of the ARF parliamentary Faction Hrayr Karapetyan said Friday that the application of force should be ruled out as an option by the authorities as well as the opposition. He noted the necessity of holding talks between the authorities and the opposition on issues of improving the electoral system. Real provisions for freedom of speech must be guaranteed, while the opposition must be given a chance to function within government as well, he added.
According to Karapetyan, the implementation of such structural reforms will help lead the country out of its present situation.
Outgoing President Robert Kocharian urged his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian Friday to stop disputing the official results of Armenia’s presidential election and again threatened to forcibly disperse opposition crowds demonstrating in Yerevan on a daily basis.
The warning came as he discussed possible post-election scenarios during a meeting with a group of university students of Yerevan State University.
Kocharian said the most "logical" of those scenarios would be for Ter-Petrosian to tell thousands of his supporters camped in the city’s Liberty Square to go home, recognize Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s election victory and plead for a "lenient treatment" of his loyalists arrested over the past week. He said the 63-year-old former scholar should also again retire from active politics and set about writing "yet another scientific paper."
"The longer they try to keep the people in the Theater Square, the greater the disappointment of those people will be," Kocharian said. "This is a deadlock and that deadlock will primarily discredit those who are now trying to use this tool."
Kocharian said the Armenian government is ready to "patiently wait until that theatrical show dies down." But he said law-enforcement authorities may also use force to "clear the square." He also warned Ter-Petrosian and his associates will end up in jail for "many years" if they attempt to seize key government buildings.
The departing Armenian leader will formally complete his second and final term in office on April 9, and he was asked by one of the students what he plans to do afterwards. "Yes, I am young. Yes, I am energetic. But I don’t know what I will be doing," he said.
"We’ll see. Things should clear up after a few months," added Kocharian.