Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the second largest parliamentary party, Prosperous Armenia (BHK), avoided giving clear answers to media questions concerning the upcoming presidential election as he visited the second largest Armenian city of Gyumri on Wednesday.
He, in particular, refused to be drawn into speculation regarding whether the ongoing negotiations between his political force and several opposition groups will eventually produce a single candidate to challenge incumbent President Serzh Sarkisian in next year’s ballot.
Last weekend the BHK launched a series of political consultations focusing on a platform, which includes a drastic electoral reform, around which various parties and groups opposed to the current government could rally in the run-up to the election scheduled for February.
Tsarukian himself is widely seen as a possible candidate to run for president.
So far the BHK has conducted talks with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Heritage party. At least two of the forces, Dashnaktsutyun and the HAK, positively evaluated the discussions and indicated that their consultations with the BHK would continue.
The HAK even went as far as not excluding the possibility of fielding a single candidate with the BHK, but its senior representative Levon Zurabian, who made the statement on Monday, did not specify who that candidate would be.
“We conduct relevant work with all, not just the Armenian National Congress,” said Tsarukian on Wednesday, when asked by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) to comment on the current talks with the HAK.
Tsarukian called on the media to exercise patience as the process was still “at the stage of consultations” and it was yet early to say whether the BHK would have a joint presidential candidate with other forces or not. “I don’t know it, let’s talk about it the next lesson,” said the burly politician using the phrase that he coined in the run-up to parliamentary elections held earlier this year.
Tsarukian was in Gyumri for the first time since BHK member Samvel Balasanian was elected mayor of this city in September. Interestingly, Balasanian’s mayoral bid was also supported by President Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
Many Gyumri residents came to the City Hall upon hearing about Tsarukian’s arrival hoping to get some personal assistance from the millionaire businessman known for his charity. Tsarukian was seen giving out money to some of those who approached him and asked for help.
At a meeting with members of the local BHK chapter Tsarukian criticized the government over the social situation in Armenia.
“People keep emigrating from the country. Why are they going abroad? Some don’t have jobs, others do have jobs, but they get meager salaries. The government must ensure that salaries and pensions keep up with inflation,” said Tsarukian.
Tsarukian and members of his party also criticized the HHK-dominated government over its economic and social policies during the campaign leading to the May elections to the National Assembly after which the BHK refused to continue to be a member of the coalition government.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, who is a senior member of the HHK, cast doubts over the possibility of an alliance between the BHK and the HAK as part of which the two forces could field a single presidential candidate.
“I look at the track record of our political parties… We know each other all too well. We know around which values this consolidation is taking place, who the bearers of these ideas are, and such a sharp change in politics is very unlikely,” Sarkisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) after a question-and-answer session at the National Assembly on Wednesday.