Tuesday, March 27, 2007


By Marianna Grigoryan

The sudden death of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on March 25 from heart failure has sparked considerable political unease in Armenia, with residents expressing concern over what implications it could have for parliamentary elections just a month and a half away.

"We have lost a statesman, a colleague, a friend who headed the government for nearly seven years in the 15-and-a-half year history of our independence, and those seven years have been the best years of our state," President Robert Kocharian told cabinet members on March 26, local media outlets reported.

As dictated by the Constitution, the Armenian government resigned on March 26, to be reformed under a new premier. A new prime minister will be appointed within 10 days and a new government will be set up within 20 days. President Kocharian has asked ministers to continue their work until then and directed that Markarian’s funeral be held on March 28, which has been designated as an official day of mourning.

Already speculation has begun about who will likely succeed the 55-year-old Markarian, Armenia’s longest serving prime minister and president of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA). Most observers see Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, arguably the former cabinet’s most influential member, as the frontrunner for the post. The defense minister, who served as chairman of the board of the ruling Republican Party, was named the party’s acting chairman following Markarian’s death.

In a March 26 statement, Armen Rustamian, a representative of the Supreme Council of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Party, a fellow member of Armenia’s ruling coalition with the Republican Party, affirmed that his party would support Sarkisian for prime minister, the Regnum news agency reported.

"According to the 2003 agreement, the prime minister’s portfolio belongs to the RPA, and for this reason the head of the government must be a representative of the Republican Party," Rustamian said, in reference to the coalition formed following Armenia’s last parliamentary elections. "If the government decides to nominate Serzh Sarkisian for this post, then the ARF will support this candidacy."

Inside Republican Party headquarters, the atmosphere has been tense since Markarian’s death was announced. Flowers surround a photograph of the late prime minister placed in the center of the party’s office. In a televised speech to party members, Parliament Speaker and Republican Party Deputy Chairman Tigran Torosian called Markarian’s death "a huge loss for all of us."

"He was not only a great political figure and statesman, but also a person who was always ready to listen even to his opponent, even to an ordinary person, a passerby, a man who was always the embodiment of tolerance and care for people," Torosian said.

In comments to the government, Kocharian, who has no official party affiliation, appeared to echo those concerns. Markarian, he told cabinet members, "left us at a very crucial time, and as the authorities, we must provide the correct solutions for finding a way to get out of the current situation."

Particular attention has already begun to focus on how the appointment of Markarian’s successor will influence relations between the Republican Party and the increasingly popular Prosperous Armenia party, already cited as the frontrunner for the May 12 parliamentary vote in some public opinion polls. Opposition and pro-government political parties, however, have refrained from official comments on the matter.

Ordinary Yerevan residents, however, are split in their opinions. "I think Markarian’s death will cause big disturbances in the upcoming elections," commented 66-year-old pensioner Hakob Muradian. Other city residents disputed that view, saying that the event will bring no changes in the near future.

A computer engineer by education, Markarian, a longtime Republican Party member, was named prime minister in May 2000, just months after the October 1999 assassination of Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, Parliamentary Speaker Karen Demirchian and several other senior officials.

Prime Minister Markarian, who suffered from obesity and was a smoker, died from cardiac failure at his Yerevan apartment on March 25, at about 1.20 pm local time, according to official reports.

A close friend of the late prime minister, who asked to remain anonymous, told EurasiaNet that Markarian’s health conditions had been deteriorating for the past several days. According to the source, a high fever, elevated blood pressure and a general sense of ill health had already prompted Markarian to cancel an earlier scheduled trip to France.

Editor’s Note: Marianna Grigoryan is a reporter for the Armenianow.com weekly in Yerevan.

Posted March 26, 2007 © Eurasianet

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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