by Marianna Grigoryan
Days after President Serge Sargsyan nominated Central Bank chairman Tigran Sarkisian (no relation) as his prime minister, commentary among analysts and politicians in Yerevan turned from who had been chosen to how the decision had been made.
Tigran Sarkisian, 48, has no political party membership and maintains that he will remain unaffiliated while serving a government overwhelmingly controlled by the president's Republican Party of Armenia (RPA).
That Serge Sargsyan would nominate someone from outside his party is being viewed by some as an indication that the new president is committed to creating a broader-based administration. (Serge Sargsyan, himself, served his premiership under a president who did not share his party affiliation.)
While united in their endorsement of the new prime minister, Serge Sargsyan's party members subsequently made revealing comments to the effect that the appointment of Tigran Sarkisian did not meet with as much internal approval as the RPA official position showed.
It is well known that many within the president's party had expected to see a prime minister from within RPA, and likely expected to see the nomination go to Hovik Abrahamian, who had served as Serge Sargsyan's deputy during his term as prime minister.
Several days before Tigran Sarkisian was officially nominated on April 7, his name was among potential nominees on a list that included Abrahamian.
"The prime minister should be a representative of the political team, but not be a politicized character. The prime minister should be a team player, should be a skilful manager, a top manager," RPA member Armen Ashotian said days before the appointment, without giving names but obviously implying Abrahamian—emphasizing the "political team" angle.
But expectations of an RPA prime minister overlooked a crucial step taken immediately by Serge Sargsyan.
Within days of being officially named winner of the February 19 election, president-elect Sargsyan formed a coalition of parties, including Rule of Law (Orinats Yerkir), Prosperous Armenia and Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaks), to supplement the body led by Sargsyan's RPA.
Yet when nomination time came, Serge Sargsyan even went outside his own coalition by selecting the bank chairman.
Opposition politician, economist, and former parliament deputy Tatul Manaserian said Tigran Sarkisian was the best choice among the lot vetted for prime minister.
"By appointing Tigran Sarkisian prime minister, the president must have considered his high professional qualities, in some cases his composure in approaching issues as well as his broad thinking," said Manaserian, who has known Tigran Sarkisian for 30 years.
However, unlike Manaserian, Prosperous Armenia Party member Naira Zohrabian said she was skeptical about the widespread opinion of Tigran Sarkisian as a professional and "economics genius."
Zohrabian said she imagined a prime minister as a patriot, "a person whose family lives in Armenia and whose children attend an Armenian school." She likely was hinting to the fact that the wife of the newly appointed prime minister and two children lived in Europe for many years.
Other coalition members refrained from comment, saying only that Tigran Sarkisian had their parties' support.
"Before, Republicans stated that the prime minister should be their fellow party member; however now they yield to the president, who does not want to have a competitor capable of relying on a parliamentary majority," Russia's prestigious newspaper, Vedomosti, wrote.
Assuming the post of the prime minister on April 10, Tigran Sarkisian said he realizes well that "this is a great responsibility."
"I was a tough and exacting head at the Central Bank and that will be continued, but at the same time I want to inform you that I am a proponent of teamwork and I am convinced that we will be able to continue that teamwork atmosphere in the government, because, as the president said, we, indeed, have ambitious programs," Tigran Sarkisian said.
He also noted that reforms would be revolutionary and that he expected to fulfill the term of his office, quieting speculation that Sarkisian's premiership would be temporary until such time as it would be convenient for Robert Kocharian to return to government, assuming the prime minister post.
Following the unrest and violence since the February 19 election that made him president, Serge Sargsyan has been encouraged, at home and from abroad, to show immediate and constructive steps in stabilizing Armenia.
Was Tigran Sarkisian a response to those influences?
"It is perhaps difficult to say what specific factors influenced the decision to appoint Tigran Sarkisian prime minister," independent political analyst Yervand Bozoyan said. "However, it is obvious that Tigran Sarkisian is a person who has close ties with international economic and financial structures and, in a sense, his appointment may be aimed at mitigating the situation (of regaining international trust)."
According to observations of pro-opposition political analyst Aghasi Yenokian, inside authorities, the opposition and members of the coalition are dissatisfied with the prime minister's appointment. He says the appointment was not a surprise, because Tigran Sarkisian is "a member of the government clan."
"Tigran Sarkisian has an image of a technocrat. In general, one can say that he does not leave a bad impression," Yenokian said. "However, especially in the last few years, people connect the fluctuations of the dollar exchange rate serving the interests of the authorities directly with him. In this sense, the new prime minister may be unacceptable for many."
Dashnak leader Armen Rustamian called the PM "a new figure capable of introducing changes that may be painful and may not be liked by everyone. In that sense, the choice of new prime minister bodes well for a new beginning."
On the other side of the aisle, however, the opinion of parliament's only opposition, Heritage, was voiced by its featured member Stepan Safarian. "He (Tigran Sarkisian) is not a strong enough person to be able to make [others] accountable to him."
Tigran Sarkisian is a native of the town of Vanadzor. His education includes the Yerevan Institute of Public Economy and the St. Petersburg (Leningrad at the time) Voznesenski Financial and Economic Institute, where he defended a thesis on "Planning of Regional Social-Economic Development Using Armenia as an Example."
Later, Tigran Sarkisian continued his education in the United States at the International Law Institute (1994) and Washington, D.C.-based World Bank's Effective Bank Management at the Institute of Economic Development (1996-1997).
On April 11, on the second day of his premiership, Prime Minister Sarkisian was asked how he would serve a republic in which the economy is controlled by only a few oligarchs.
"Just like I fought against all these phenomena in the banking sector," he answered. "Now the arena has been enlarged, we must proceed in the same way in the real sector." Referring to the taxation field, he stressed that "all must work on a level field."
Tigran Sarkisian says his previous experience in politics (he was once in the opposition, as a member of the National Democratic Union party) would help him in his new capacity, which is a political post by nature.
"For five years I was a Supreme Council (parliament) deputy, chairman of the standing Commission on Finance, Budgetary and Credit Issues, and during 1990-1995 I was a participant in quite stormy political processes," he told the media. "At that time I was successful in bringing together different yet bright political figures, and our commission was the most effective commission at the Supreme Council. We were the ones who presented the largest number of pieces of draft legislation. At that time I was a representative of the opposition yet, despite that, I managed to cooperate with different political forces and work effectively. I think the experience of my political biography suggests that I will be able to unite individuals from different political views and here, honestly, I don't see any serious problem."