Sargsyan Set to Be Prime Minister Sources Say

YEREVAN (Reuters)–Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan–who led his Unity bloc to victory in Armenia’s parliamentary election on Sunday–will probably be named prime minister next week–government sources said on Thursday.

They said President Robert Kocharian has asked Sargsyan–an enigmatic figure whose control over the influential army already gives him considerable clout–to take up the post next week–after the new 131-member legislature meets.

Unity–co-run by Armenia’s Soviet-era leader Karen Demirchian–is expected to have a majority in parliament when final results from Sunday’s voting are released on Friday.

"It is going to be Sargsyan," said one source close to the government. Initial figures show Unity won a clear majority.

"His bloc won the election–and so he has the support of the people," said a high-ranking government official.

Many political analysts had expected Kocharian to replace Prime Minister Armen Darbinian. But–prior to the poll–few had expected Sargsyan or Demirchian would want the job–which entails big political risks.

Sargsyan–if named–will be Armenia’s seventh prime minister since independence in 1991. Most have taken the fall for failing to bring major gains in the poor living standards the country has faced since the Soviet breakup.

Few economists expect any quick fixes–especially while Armenia’s economy is still hampered by an 11-year conflict with oil-rich Azerbaijan that has closed traditional trade routes. But neither do they expect any major changes in economic policy.

"One must not hide from responsibility or look for scapegoats," said the high-ranking source of Kocharian’s decision to home in on Sargsyan.

Some political analysts have forecast a possible showdown between the ambitious–bearded Sargsyan–a writer and poet by trade–and Kocharian–who they say may be trying to check Sargsyan’s power by giving him an insurmountable task.

Sargsyan’s personal appeal among ordinary Armenia’s is far from universal. Many remember him for putting his tanks on to the streets of the capital in 1996 at the behest of former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan–after a disputed election between Ter-Petrosyan and ex-prime minister Vazgen Manoukian.

He is assumed to have supplied the organizational base for Unity’s win in Sunday’s parliamentary vote–but most believe it was Demirchian’s populist charisma which was the key factor.

Yet the prevailing opinion is that while there may be early tension between Kocharian and the new government over Unity’s populist-oriented campaign slogans of modifying painful market reforms–neither man will seek open confrontation.

"I don’t see anything like that happening here for at least the next two years," said the senior source of a possible rift.

"Any government will simply be compelled to follow more or less the present set of policies–give or take 10 or 15 percent. It is one thing to make campaign slogans and another to have a real program."

Armenia–with limited internal resources–is heavily dependent on International Monetary Fund and World Bank credits for economic stability.

Political sources say some faces in the outgoing government are unlikely to be in the new cabinet. They include Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian–an Armenian-American whose Diaspora support base does not fit well with the new players.


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