People’s Party to Form Alliance with Right & Accord

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The People’s Party of Armenia is in talks with the opposition Right and Accord bloc over the formation of a center-left alliance that would mark its final break with the current governing coalition–it was confirmed on Tuesday.

"Yes–that process can be considered to be underway," Right and Accord leader Artashes Geghamian revealed to RFE/RL–commenting on reports that growing disaffection with government policies causes the People’s Party to gravitate towards his leftist nationalist bloc.

The People’s Party–founded by the late parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and currently led by his son Stepan–composes the ruling Unity bloc together with the center-right Republican Party of Armenia. Serious differences inside the bloc that won the 1999 parliamentary elections first came to light last May when Demirchian’s party objected to the appointment of Republican Party chairman Andranik Markarian as prime minister. But despite those objections–the People’s PaRty chose to join Markarian’s cabinet at the time. However–its opposition to government plans to privatize Armenia’s electricity distribution networks appears to have rekindled the discord.

"We periodically meet with Mr. Demirchian and exchange views on major issues," Geghamian said–adding that positions of the two political organizations coincide on "many issues."

Right and Accord–which controls eight seats in the 131-member parliament–has been fiercely opposed to the government’s economic policy that is largely in line with the recommendations of Western lending institutions. A People’s PaRty decision to team up with government opponents would result in a far-reaching realignment in Armenia’s political scene. Some reports have said that other leftist groups also take an interest in joining the would-be alliance. A senior source in the Armenian Communist Party–which is also represented in Markarian’s cabinet–said the new bloc will be set up "probably in September" and that the Communists too may join it.

The People’s Party’s 24 parliament mandates are significant for the government’s ability to push its bills through the National Assembly. Still–observers note that the passage last week of the energy privatization bill demonstrated that Markarian may continue to muster the necessary support for his initiatives even in the event of the People’s Party breaking ran’s.

Meanwhile–Parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian has been "strongly condemned" by the leadership of the People’s Party of Armenia–of which he is a member–for his absence from last week’s crucial debates on the energy sector privatization–party officials said on Tuesday. A People’s Party spokesman–Stepan Minasian–told RFE/RL that the party’s board issued a statement to that effect "a few days ago." He said it has yet to decide whether to seek Khachatrian’s dismissal from the post of speaker.

The move represents the most serious yet challenge to Khachatrian–whose nine-month speakership has already been marred by several scandals. It comes amid continuing speculations that People’s Party chairman Stepan Demirchian considers standing in a September by-election to the parliament with the ultimate aim of replacing him as speaker. Demirchian claimed on Tuesday that he is still undecided on whether he should try to enter the National Assembly.

Minasian said the speaker–who is currently on vacation in Ukraine–should not have been absent from "the discussions of the issue of strategic importance to the people."

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