Armenian President Robert Kocharian had little choice but to approve yesterday the composition of a new cabinet of ministers, in the formation of which he played a figurehead’s role and which further strengthens his rival, Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian. The new cabinet expands Sarkisian’s political base by coopting four parliamentary parties and caucuses, which now gain shares of power, alongside the dominant Republican Party and People’s Party, which form the Unity [Miasnutiun] majority bloc. Those four new partners are the Communist Party, the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaksutiun, the Stability parliamentary group-a satellite of the Republican Party–and the right-of-center National Democratic Union (NDU).
The prime minister and the parties bypassed Kocharian in a quick maneuver and with sovereign sleight of hand. On February 21, Sarkisian and the partners-to-be huddled to divide the government portfolios among themselves and capped that understanding with a rhetorical pledge to jointly tackle the country’s problems. Only two days later they finalized the division, capping it this time with a banquet. And on February 28, Kocharian signed the appointment of the ministers presented to him by Sarkisian.
The new government reduces the number of ministries from twenty-four to seventeen by merging several ministries. The pro-Sarkisian ministers of Defense, Lieutenant General Vagharshak Harutiunian, and of State Security, Major-General Karlos Petrosian, retain their posts. So do the reputedly pro-Kocharian ministers of Foreign Affairs, Vardan Oskanian, and of Justice, David Harutiunian. NDU’s David Vartanian takes over the newly constituted Ministry of State Property, despite objections within the NDU to joining this government. The economic reformer Armen Darpinian, a former prime minister in good standing with international lending institutions, who headed the Economics Ministry until yesterday, is no longer in the government. The Communist Party is present in the cabinet for the first time since 1990; it now holds the ministries of local government and construction and of health and social welfare–two ministries which were formed out of the existing four. The new Agriculture Minister, People Party’s Zaven Kevorkian, is a businessman resident until now in Moscow. The Dashnaks retain the Culture Ministry.
Excluded from this combination are only two parliamentary parties–Country of Laws and Right and Accord–both of which support Kocharian in the rivalry with the Sarkisian camp. In a further illustration of Kocharian’s weakening position, Yerevan courts prolonged the investigative detention of two of the president’s supporters–his foreign policy adviser and former chief of staff, Alexan Harutiunian, and the deputy director of National Television, Harutiun Harutiunian–whom the pro-Sarkisian military prosecutors are trying to implicate in the October 27 terrorist assault in parliament (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Respublika Armeniya, February 21-28).
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