YEREVAN, May 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Until recently, Markarian's and Baghdasarian's parties enjoyed close ties.
Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia and Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir joined forces following the country's 2003 parliamentary elections. Together with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun party, they went on to form the government's ruling coalition.
But on May 12, the parliament speaker -- citing differences over social and foreign policies -- publicly announced his intention to step down, and to take Orinats Yerkir with him. What Next For Coalition?
Baghdasarian's announcement has temporarily cast doubt on the future composition of the coalition. But in an exclusive interview aired today by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian expressed regret over the departure of a coalition partner just a year before new parliamentary elections, but vowed the work of the government would not be interrupted by Baghdasarian's move.
As Baghdasarian's relations with Kocharian soured, 11 party members -- all businessmen with close ties to the president -- openly defected.
"When we signed the [coalition] memorandum in July 2003, we had an agreement that any party could quit, and Orinats Yerkir used that opportunity," Baghdasarian said. "It's not desirable that one of our partners quits a year before parliamentary elections, but one should never link the country's development with the activities or attitude of one party. I think we will have certain difficulties initially, but there will be no major changes in the domestic policies in our country."
Baghdasarian angered Armenian President Robert Kocharian and other politicians by openly contradicting the country's stated policy of nonmembership in NATO and the European Union. An Unpopular Stance
Markarian said political differences have always existed between the coalition members, but that Baghdasarian's party provoked resentment by pushing too hard for change.
"There are issues that Orinats Yerkir wants to be solved in a way that they see to be 'more effective,' but which is against our policies," Markarian said. "We may have the same goals, but we have to consider the problem of time and means. We need to wait for opportunities and that causes certain differences."
Markarian also suggested that Orinats Yerkir may have used its disagreements with its fellow coalition members as a way to "give an early start to the election campaign" ahead of the May 2007 parliamentary vote.
"Artur Baghdasarian is a serious politician and he would never do something that he hadn't seriously thought about," the prime minister said, adding that Orinats Yerkir says they "want to achieve something more quickly and more effectively than we do, but then they fail to show how such a thing would be possible. If they have a good suggestion for how to solve a problem, the government is ready to listen to them." Breaking Ranks
Orinats Yerkir's departure from the coalition was not the decisive action of a unified group. As Baghdasarian's relations with Kocharian grew publicly cold, 11 party members -- all businessmen with close ties to the president -- openly defected.
Still, Markarian dismissed claims that the collapse of Orinats Yerkir's party unity had been orchestrated by Kocharian's administration. He suggested that for prominent members of the business community, the thought of abandoning the ruling coalition for the ranks of the political opposition may have been unappealing.
"It was the political decision of those people that reflects their position," Markarian said. "It was not preplanned or engineered by someone; simply, it was their decision not to appear in the opposition."
The fate of three Orinats Yerkir cabinet members -- including Science and Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian -- remain in doubt as well. It is not clear they stepped down from their posts despite Baghdasarian's call that all party members follow his lead.
Markarian declined to discuss a possible successor to Baghdasarian as parliamentary speaker. Some observers have speculated the post may go to deputy speaker Tigran Torosian, a member of Markarian's Republican Party.