YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The main pro-government force in Armenia–began a first congress–ending their formal transformation into a political party a few months before next parliamentary elections. The transformation took the form of a merger of the Vazgen Sargsyan-led Yerkrapah Union with the Republican Party of Armenia–a hitherto small nationalist group. The significantly reinforced Republican party now holds a majority in parliament and controls several ministries and most local self-government bodies.
"The Republican Party today made a bid to become a powerful and influential organization. With Vazgen Sarkisian on board–I hope we will create a viable structure," Albert Bazeyan–a Yerkrapah leader and deputy speaker of parliament–said opening the congress. "The party can become a helmsman in rendering the society more healthy," he said.
"We have succeeded in maintaining stability in the country," said another senior Yerkrapah law-maker–Razmik Martirosian.
The Republican party boasts more than 5,000 members and 57 territorial branches throughout Armenia. Party officials say most members of the Yerkrapah faction in parliament have become Republicans.
The congress is due to elect a board and its chairman. It was understood that Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan was unlikely to become chairman but will remain the party’s unofficial leader. Officials also said the Republican leadership will hold a conference in the run-up to parliamentary elections expected in May.
Next week–the Yerkrapah majority in parliament is expected to finally pass a new election law–harshly criticized by the opposition. Opposition parties have accused Sargsyan’s loyalists of planning a massive vote manipulation by using their government levers. Andranik Markarian–a senior member of the Republican Party–said the elections should proceed in the "atmosphere of mutual trust."The party must have a vote of confidence," he said in a speech.
In the words of Bazeyan–the party’s creation is not meant to help government officials with dubious reputation remain in power. "Being in power must not mean having a party with a nomenclature core," he said. "It is time to take resolute steps to ensure law and order and combat corruption."
Turning to the economic sphere–Bazeyan called for "free economic competition," creation of a "middle class" along with a "fair distribution of income."
The head of the government’s tax department–Smbat Ayvazian–said economic policy must have an "explicit social orientation," with "state sponsorship" in some unspecified branches.
Other speakers acknowledged that little has changed in ordinary people’s life since the change of leadership in Armenia one year ago. "The people who have won a war cannot live in such conditions," said Yerkrapah’s Martirosian.