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How Will Dashnaks' Withdrawal From Ruling Coalition Impact On Armenian Political Landscape?

HHD leaders Vahan Hovannisian (left) and Hrant Markarian are no longer on such friendly terms with President Serzh Sarkisian (right).

HHD leaders Vahan Hovannisian (left) and Hrant Markarian are no longer on such friendly terms with President Serzh Sarkisian (right).

It is still too early to assess the long-term repercussions of the April 27 withdrawal by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) from the four-party coalition government to protest the signing last week of a "road map" for normalizing relations with Turkey.

The leader of one of the three remaining coalition parties has expressed concern that the HHD move may weaken the coalition, while parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian on April 29 invited the HHD not to relinquish the chairmanships of two parliamentary committees. HHD parliament faction head Vahan Hovannisian announced on April 30 that the party has accepted that offer, Noyan Tapan reported.

In a statement on April 27, the HHD affirmed that it will not abandon its tough line on Turkey and recognition of the 1915 genocide. The statement further said that the HHD intends "to become a full-fledged alternative to the government by proposing our own programs and solutions on all problems; to assume the role of an efficient counterbalance and reserve to the [ruling] authorities"; and "to carry out the functions necessary for the purpose of rehabilitating and crystallizing the political sphere and the formation of civilized relations between the government and the opposition, and for establishing social justice and strengthening democracy."

Also on April 27, HHD parliament member Armen Rustamian said that those HHD members who occupied senior posts within the government and parliament would formally relinquish them.

Hovannisian was quoted on April 28 by the newspaper "Iravunk de facto" as saying that his party will now act like a genuine opposition force. At the same time, he admitted he is "skeptical about the concept of constructive opposition."

Hovannisian also made clear that the HHD does not intend for the moment to cooperate with former President Levon Ter-Petrossian and his Armenian National Congress (HAK). But he did not rule out such cooperation in the future "if they take constructive positions and adopt our approaches."

The Russian-language daily "Golos Armenii" on April 30 suggested that the HHD may embark on cooperation with Zharangutiun (Heritage), until now the sole opposition party represented in parliament. Zharangutiun has not commented on that possibility.

Dashnaktsutiun lawmaker Artashes Shahbazian for his part cited the need to "form a new political culture" in Armenia. But Shahbazian also argued on April 29 that by retaining the two parliament posts, his party would not give more ammunition to those opposition leaders who suspect that Dashnaktsutiun will continue to secretly cooperate with President Serzh Sarkisian despite its exit from the government. He differentiated clearly between the cabinet portfolios the HHD was given when it joined the coalition in March 2008, and the parliament committee chairmanships that it received after polling third in the parliament ballot in May 2007. "We have abandoned our government posts that were given to us as a result of political agreements," he said. "But we didn't enter the parliament as a result of political agreements."

The remaining three coalition parties -- President Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), businessman Gagik Tsarukian's Prosperous Armenia (BHK), and the Law-Based State (OYe) party headed by National Security Council Secretary Artur Baghdasarian -- issued a joint statement on April 27 saying they "respect" the HHD decision to pull out of the coalition but still believe that the rapprochement with Turkey will benefit Armenia.

BHK leader Tsarukian nonetheless cast doubts on the ultimate success of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue. "My personal view is that this is a game and that Turkey will not open the border," he told journalists on April 28. Tsarukian also predicted that Dashnaktsutiun's departure will "weaken" the ruling coalition, as would the departure of any one of its four members "How can we underestimate Dashnaktsutiun?" he asked.

Senior HHK lawmaker Armen Ashotian suggested on April 28 that the HHD decision to pull out of the ruling coalition was less a matter of principle than a strategic move intended to enhance the party's prestige in the run-up, first to the Yerevan municipal elections on May 31 and, in the longer term, to the parliamentary ballot due in 2011. "Experience has shown that the pro-government electorate fails to live up to Dashnaktsutiun's expectations in terms of the number of votes [cast for them]," he told RFE/RL.

Levon Zurabian, a prominent HAK member who is close to Ter-Petrossian, on April 28 described the HHD withdrawal from the coalition government as a "first sign that this regime is not viable" and will show deeper cracks in the coming months. He said the HAK will be ready to cooperate with the HHD only if it acts like a "real opposition." "They need to earn the right to be a real opposition," he said.

-- Liz Fuller and Anush Martirosian

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.