ARF Again Threatens Government Exit

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation will pull out of the government if the upcoming parliamentary elections fall short of democratic standards or if it fares poorly in them, a leader of the influential nationalist party said on Friday. "If it becomes clear that the election results are not recognized by international bodies, The ARF will never be part of a government formed by such a National Assembly," Armen Rustamian told RFE/RL, underlining lingering fears about the freedom and fairness of the polls. Rustamian, who issued a similar warning last September, said that the ARF’s continued presence in government also hinges on control of an unspecified "sufficient" number of seats in the next Armenian parliament. "We will not remain part of the government if the number of our parliament deputies does not enable us to influence the adoption of government decisions," he said. "For example, if two political forces are able to form a coalition without us, we will not join them just to increase their government’s number of parliament seats. That is, we are not going to become the fifth wheel of any government," added Rustamian. The remarks suggest that the ARF is aspiring to a greater role in government affairs. The pan-Armenian party has four ministerial portfolios in President Robert Kocharian’s cabinet, none of them relating to defense, security and foreign policy. It also holds 11 seats in the 131-strong National Assembly. Rustamian, who heads the assembly’s foreign relations committee, said it wants to win at least as many seats in the next parliament. The ARF, which has been allied with President Robert Kocharian throughout his nine-year rule, joined the Armenian opposition in rejecting as fraudulent the official results of the last parliamentary elections that gave victory to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party, which is again seen as the election favorite, owing to its grip on many government bodies and, more importantly, the recently unveiled alliance with the powerful Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. The United States and the European Union say the forthcoming vote will put Armenia’s democratic credentials to the greatest test yet. The Kocharian administration has assured the West that it will be more democratic than the reputedly fraudulent elections held in Armenia in the past. But its political rivals claim that the authorities will again resort to vote rigging and vote buying to cling to power. Rustamian did not exclude the possibility that the ARF will stage street protests in case of a repeat of serious fraud. "If you move into opposition, you draw up a corresponding strategy," he said. "In that case, we would use all political means to influence processes with an opposition stance."

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