With 18 months to go before the next scheduled parliamentary elections, Armenian oligarch Gagik Tsarukian has called on his Bargavach Hayastan party
(BHK), one of the two junior partners in the coalition government, to intensify its activities "at all levels." That appeal is likely to fuel persistent rumors of a rift between the BHK and President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), especially as some analysts in Yerevan suspect
that former President Robert Kocharian plans to use the BHK to engineer his return to power, possibly as prime minister.
Tensions between the BHK and HHK date back to a public clash between their representatives on the Yerevan municipal council in November 2009. At that time, one of Tsarukian's aides, Naira Zohrabian, assured RFE/RL's Armenian Service that the BHK had no differences with the HHK on "issues crucial to the country," and that it continues "to stand by the president." At the same time, she said it was not a foregone conclusion
that the existing coalition government would last until the parliamentary ballot due in the spring of 2012.
"The coalition is not a fusion of Siamese twins," Zohrabian said. "Each political force has its own concrete objectives."
In an apparent bid to forestall renewed speculation about relations between the two parties, senior BHK member Aram Safarian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on September 22 that "we stand for honest competition and…will never strike from behind. We will not attack anyone in the government camp or the opposition."
He denied that Tsarukian expects preterm parliamentary elections or is at odds with President Sarkisian. On the contrary, he said the two men have "an excellent rapport."
The HHK, too, is at pains to downplay reports of problems within the coalition. Razmik Zohrabian (no relation to Naira), who is deputy head of the HHK parliament faction, said on September 22 that he is "perplexed" by such rumors. He affirmed that the HHK will vote to approve
whichever candidate the BHK selects to succeed Arevik Petrosian, a BHK parliamentarian who stepped down on September 20 as deputy parliament speaker.
Such statements are unlikely, however, to counter the perception of a growing rivalry between two parties that might even reflect a proxy struggle for power between the current president and his predecessor. If that confrontation becomes public, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), which served as Kocharian's power base from 1998-2008, might align with the BHK against the HHK. The HHD accepted Sarkisian's offer in March 2008 to join the coalition government, but quit one year later to protest his policy toward Turkey.
The HHK has 63 seats in the current 131-member National Assembly, the BHK 26, and the HHD 18. Safarian predicted on September 22 that his party will increase its representation in the new legislature.-- Liz Fuller, Ruzanna Stepanian & Richard Giragosian