In a dramatic about-face that will boost President Serzh Sarkisian’s reelection chances, Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian said on Wednesday that he will not stand as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election.
In a written statement, the BHK said Tsarukian announced his decision at an emergency meeting of the party’s governing body and parliamentary faction. It said this announcement led the meeting to decide that the BHK will not field a presidential candidate or support any other contender in the election scheduled for February 18.
The statement did not specify the reasons for the move given by Tsarukian. It said only that the tycoon thanked his allies for their “unconditional support and trust.”
Commenting on the development, BHK spokesman Tigran Urikhanian said Armenia’s second largest parliamentary forces is only keen to make Armenians better off. “No positions, including the post of president, can be a priority for us,” Urikhanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Prosperous Armenia has other priorities and will not deviate from the path leading to them.”
“You should also bear in mind that the nomination or non-nomination of a leader is his personal decision,” he said, adding that the BHK decided not to endorse other presidential candidates “out of expediency.”
Tsarukian was widely expected to run for president until his unexpected weekend meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian. None of its details were officially made public.
Some Armenian media outlets reported earlier this week that Tsarukian came under strong pressure from Sarkisian and decided not to challenge the president’s reelection bid after the meeting. The BHK dismissed those claims.
Urikhanian insisted that Tsarukian was not forced to quit the presidential race. “Pressuring the BHK would mean trying to suppress people’s hope to see a prosperous Armenia,” he said.
Tsarukian’s exit from the race is certain to solidify Sarkisian’s status as the election favorite. Only one major opposition politician, Raffi Hovannisian of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, has nominated his presidential candidacy so far.
Tsarukian pledged support for Sarkisian’s reelection in a joint declaration signed with the president in February 2011. His party was represented in Armenia’s coalition government by four ministers at the time.
Tsarukian called that agreement into question in September 2011, sparking renewed tensions between the BHK and Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). They culminated in the BHK’s withdrawal from the ruling coalition following the May 2012 parliamentary elections.
The BHK has since stepped up its criticism of the government and increasingly hinted at Tsarukian’s intention to challenge the incumbent in the election. His senior associates stated throughout last month that the dominant view among BHK members is that he should run for president. Tsarukian said on November 21 that he has “already made a decision” but will not publicize it for now.
The announcement that the tycoon will not enter the fray after all was followed by an emergency meeting of the governing body of the Armenian National Congress (HAK). The opposition alliance led by Levon Ter-Petrosian, Sarkisian’s main challenger in the last presidential election, has courted the BHK in recent months in hopes of forming a united front against the government.
“Discussions over the new political situation are now continuing in the Armenian National Congress,” HAK spokesman Arman Musinian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after the meeting. “The HAK will announce its final decision after summing up those discussions.”
Ter-Petrosian, who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, has still not announced whether he will contest the forthcoming election. Observers have suggested that he will wait until Tsarukian clarifies his election-related plans to decide whether to join the race. Some of them have claimed that the HAK might endorse the BHK’s presidential candidate. Levon Zurabian, a top Ter-Petrosian aide, did not exclude last month that the two political forces will back the same candidate.