Unity Bloc Rift Deepens

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Unity bloc–the main political force behind Armenia’s present government–moved closer to disintegration on Monday as one of its two member-parties admitted sharing some key views of the opposition Right and Accord bloc – one of the cabinet’s most fierce critics.

The center-left People’s Party of Armenia drifted further away from the governing coalition when its chairman–Stepan Demirchian–held another meeting with Right Accord leader Artashes Geghamian–declaring a convergence of their political agendas. "It was concluded that the two parties have common and mutually complementing approaches on a number of issues of vital importance to the people," the two men’said in a statement.

Speaking to RFE/RL–they made it clear that the document is not a prelude to the establishment of a new opposition alliance–at the possibility of which Geghamian hinted last week. On Monday Geghamian described relations with the People’s Party as an "emerging partnership." Demirchian–for his part–said the media should stop "making a fuss" about the ongoing consultations between the two organizations.

Still–their increasingly conspicuous contacts drew a veiled warning from Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party that makes up Unity along with Demirchian’s party. A senior Republican Party member–Galust Sahakian–said "if there are eventually certain changes in the bloc–the People’s Party will be fully responsible for that." The Republicans "do not fear shadow warnings and can cooperate with anyone else," he told RFE/RL.

Friction between the Unity parties were heightened last month when a crucial vote in the parliament left them divided over government plans to privatize the country’s energy distribution networks. Opposition to the sell-off is one of the points of agreement between the People’s Party and Right and Accord–according to Demirchian. The two center-left groups favor a stronger government involvement in the economy–while the Republicans largely support the liberal policies implemented by successive Armenian cabinets.

The People’s Party’s final break with the government would lose premier Markarian 24 seats in the 131-member parliament. However–observers note that Markarian can still control the National Assembly without People’s Party support–especially if he continues to enjoy the backing of President Robert Kocharian.

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