Yerevan, 6 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Armenian Prime Minister and Acting-President Robert Kocharian says the upcoming presidential elections are a chance to unite Armenians.
Kocharian talked to RFE-RL in Yerevan two days ago. Kocharian is one of 12 candidates in elections scheduled for March 16. The election was prompted by a sudden resignation of previous president, Levon Ter-Petrosian, a month ago.
Prior to his appointment as Prime Minister one year ago, Kocharian was President of Nagorno-Karabakh for five years. Until recently Kocharian was not considered an Armenian citizen.
Several of Kocharian's contenders are challenging his right to run for president. Vazgen Manukian's party, the National Democratic Union, said yesterday that Kocharian does not qualify because the constitution requires all presidential candidates to be citizens who have lived in Armenia for at least ten years.
Kocharian's campaign spokesman, Aghvan Vartanian, dismisses those charges. He insists Kocharian's candidacy is legal. He says all necessary documents have already been submitted to the central electoral commission which is to issue a ruling shortly.
Kocharian does not belong to any party. He promises to introduce constitutional changes to establish a balance of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
"Naturally, the powers of the president must be limited for the greater stability of the country" Kocharian says.
He has recently reached an agreement with the recently legalized nationalistic socialist Dashnak in which he gained that party's support in exchange for assurances that he would call early parliamentary elections under liberalized voting rules. Under Ter-Petrosian, Dashnak was banned, with dozens of its leaders, members and supporters kept in jail for two and a half years on charges of seeking to overthrow the government by force.
Dashnak leader Vahan Hovanasian confirmed the agreement in a conversation with RFE/RL.
"If Robert Kocharian becomes president, this parliament which was elected in an unlawful manner will quite definitely be dissolved early; Robert Kocharian and we have the following tasks: changing the constitution in many areas -- including redistribution of power, since most power currently is in the hands of the president."
Hovanasian went on to say that "we have to return power to parliament and grant much more authority to the Prime Minister." He also said he had agreed with Kocharian on reforming the judicial system -- ending the president's authority to appoint all the judges and redefining the function of the prosecutor and the constitutional court.
Kocharian rejected suggestions that Armenia is currently in a crisis over Ter-Petrosian's resignation.
"The president resigned because he was in the minority. He was alone on this issue. I don't think the entire Armenian nation is a party of war and only the president is a party of peace. I think the president unfortunately on the way out slammed the door", Kocharian says.
Kocharian said his position on resolving the Karabakh issue has remained constant for the last three to four years and is based on three basic principles.
"These principles are as follows: firstly, ruling out the subordination of any party to the conflict to another party; secondly, not imposing enclave status on Nagorno-Karabakh; and thirdly, providing international guarantees for Karabakh security."
Kocharian said that if agreement can be reached on these three principles, a document normalizing the Karabakh conflict could be signed within one week. He said relations between Karabakh and Azerbaijan must be based on equality and must be mutually beneficial. And he said these relations could take the form of confederation or association.
"I am convinced that the Karabakh problem must be resolved by all three parties to the conflict at the negotiating table with the help of mediators, in this case, OSCE's Minsk group and its co-chairs (eds: the US, Russia and France)," Kocharian says, adding that the most important thing is that the sides realize that they must resolve the problem and the mediators must set conditions.
"The Armenian side does not want a war and is ready to participate in a constructive process of resolution," Kocharian says, but adds "Nagorno-Karabakh is ready for anything."
On the issue of foreign policy, Kocharian rejected suggestions that Armenia is somehow isolated.
"I do not consider Armenia to be isolated. I have been Prime Minister of Armenia for about one year and I do not feel any such isolation," Kocharian says, suggesting that his predecessors used "isolation" as an excuse to resolve domestic problems.
Kocharian said that Armenia has a special relationship with Russia largely resulting from the situation in the region, particularly Turkey's rapprochement with Azerbaijan.
"In this situation, Russo-Armenian relations offer Armenia a role and several guarantees -- a guarantee for Armenia's security, as well as possible military cooperation and partnership," Kocharian says.
But he also says that Armenia "should be guided by its pragmatic interests -- state and regional interests."
Kocharian says his experience in heading the government convinced him that neither the previous president nor the parliament were trying sufficiently hard to attract foreign investments.
"A priori they considered that being in a zone of conflict, there was no need for these investments -- there was no requisite legislation, nor was there a policy on energy suited to attracting foreign investment," says Kocharian, promising to take a more active interest in these matters. Kocharian says Armenia is implementing, what he terms, "a very liberal economic policy with the most liberal tax policy of any CIS member state and in full conformity with European standards."