Three months after the May 6 parliamentary elections, opinion in Armenia remains divided over whether the Prosperous Armenia (BH) party, the second-largest faction in the new parliament, is unequivocally an opposition force.
In recent weeks, BH failed to support a major opposition parliament initiative. At the same time, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has signaled its support for BH's candidate in the upcoming mayoral election in Giumri, Armenia's second city.
In late May, BH Chairman Gagik Tsarukian announced
that his party would not join the new coalition government formed by the HHK and the Law-Based State party, which like BH had been a member of the previous coalition. Tsarukian said BH would function as "a constructive alternative" in the legislature. BH parliament deputies subsequently voted against
the new government's program.
Meanwhile, the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) headed by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian continues to woo BH. Ter-Petrossian made his first overture to BH late last year, before the collapse of the agreement the three coalition members had signed in February 2011 pledging not to compete against each other in the 2012 parliamentary ballot. The HAK and BH, together with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), joined forces in the run-up to the May elections in a bid to prevent, or at least detect and publicize, efforts to rig the outcome of the vote.
Speaking at a public rally in Yerevan late last month, Ter-Petrossian urged BH to withstand government pressure on one of its parliament deputies, former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. At the same time, Ter-Petrossian argued that BH should clarify its political stance. He warned
that "if Prosperous Armenia pledges loyalty to [President] Serzh Sarkisian after all this, then that will spell its end as a political factor. Therefore, the only guarantee of its existence and political future is its determination to become a real opposition."
Just days later, HAK coordinator Levon Zurabian, Ter-Petrossian's erstwhile presidential spokesman, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that HAK is prepared to back in the September local elections "candidates from other political forces...if we see that our endorsement would somehow help to weaken the regime's positions in Armenia." Asked whether that offer extended to BH, Zurabian replied
that "this applies to all forces that are ready to be an alternative to these authorities and to resist and revolt against these authorities."
BH has not responded publicly, however, to those offers of cooperation and support. It also failed to throw its weight behind a bid by the HAK, Dashnak, and Zharangutiun (Heritage) parliament factions to convene an emergency parliament session to debate the death of an army doctor beaten up by security personnel at a Yerevan restaurant owned by wealthy businessman and HAK parliament deputy Ruben Hayrapetian. Only seven of BH's 37 parliament deputies
endorsed the call for a debate.
Senior BH lawmaker Naira Zohrabian attributed the failure of the entire faction to back the initiative to the fact that many of its members were out of the country. But after BH then declined to join the three parties in submitting written questions about the restaurant killing to state prosecutors, Zohrabian said the party would not join any joint initiatives involving Zharangutiun, which is highly critical of BH. "Zharangutiun is a puppet political force that is now explicitly tasked with channeling this public movement, this resentment against the Harsnakar [restaurant] incident, to another field, namely against Prosperous Armenia," the pro-HAK paper "Haykakan zhamanak" quoted Zohrabian as saying.
Predictably, BH's seeming inconsistency has triggered speculation in the media that is likely to intensify in coming months with the approach of the presidential election due in February. Hopes that all opposition parties, including BH, might close ranks behind a single opposition presidential candidate already look unrealistic given that both Ter-Petrossian and Zharangutiun leader Raffi Hovannisian have signaled their intention to run. But that does not necessarily mean that BH will back President Sarkisian's reelection bid, rather than field a candidate of its own.