YEREVAN (Reuters–RFE/RL)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian named Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan as prime minister on Friday–passing a loaded baton to the co-leader of the biggest group in parliament.
Sargsyan had been widely expected to become premier after he and Soviet-era leader Karen Demirchian led their Unity alliance to victory in a parliamentary election on May 30. Demirchian was appointed parliamentary speaker on Thursday.
"The president signed an order today appointing Vazgen Sargsyan as prime minister," a presidential spokeswoman told Reuters by telephone.
The Unity alliance won 57 of the 131 seats in parliament in the election. A number of independent deputies are also likely to support the bloc–which ran on a platform of easing the hardship of post-Soviet reforms.
Sargsyan–who will give up his post as defense minister–has far from universal appeal among ordinary Armenia’s.
Some political analysts have said they see a potential rivalry developing between Sargsyan and Kocharian–but most do not expect it to flare into open confrontation.
The two new appointmen’s deftly place the burden of responsibility for government on the shoulders of Sargsyan and Demirchian
Unity has said its top priority is to focus on economic development in the struggling–land-locked Caucasus country of about 3.8 million people.
But few economists expect any quick fixes–especially while Armenia’s economy is still hampered by an 11-year old conflict with oil-rich Azerbaijan which led to the closure of traditional trade routes.
Sargsyan–a 40-year-old teacher and poet–is Armenia’s seventh prime minister since independence in 1991.
His appointment needs no approval from the 131-member parliament–but he has to submit an economic program to the body 20 days after naming a cabinet.
The parliament would then have a confidence vote–which is likely to be passed due to Unity’s dominance.
The newly appointed Armenian Prime Minister will form his cabinet and submit its program to parliament debate by next Wednesday–it was announced on Friday. The new government will markedly differ from the outgoing one even though some ministers could keep their posts–government sources said.
Observers say the latest political changes in Armenia may well limit sweeping powers vested in President Kocharian by the constitution. A senior government official told RFE/RL that the powerful ministry of internal affairs and national security–headed by a key Kocharian ally–Serj Sarkisian–will be split into two separate agencies. Sarkisian will be confined to head the national security agency while the post of interior minister will be given to one of the new premier’s loyalists–the official said. Yerevan mayor Suren Abrahamian is seen as the most likely candidate for the job.
In another important news–the government source said the previous prime minister Armen Darbinian could stay in the government and deal with economic issues. But it remained unclear in what capacity Darbinian would do that.
Political analysts say Sargsyan’s cabinet will probably keep some of the same faces–including Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian.
Also according to the source–an army general will likely become defense minister–meaning that Prime Minister Sargsyan will maintain his grip on the military. The current ministers of culture and education representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation will most probably not be replaced.