Wooing the Europeans?: Tsarukyan’s visit to Brussels regarded in context of upcoming presidential vote

On Tuesday leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) Gagik Tsarukyan started a two-day visit to Brussels to meet with senior representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Agency for Foreign Affairs, parliamentarians as well as leaders of the local Armenian community.

The visit by Tsarukyan (officially heading a PAP delegation) to the political heart of Europe fueled speculation in Armenia that it was connected with his long-awaited decision on the format of his and his party’s participation in the 2013 presidential election.

PAP has the second largest faction in the Armenian parliament and many local experts believe this party’s position will largely predetermine the course and outcome of the February presidential election, in which the ruling Republican Party’s candidate for reelection will be incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan.

The official period of nominating candidates in the February vote will begin soon, but the PAP leader has not yet announced whether he will run for president himself or will support another candidate.

On his Facebook account ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs and now senior member of PAP Vartan Oskanian has tried to explain why Tsarukyan had gone to Brussels. According to him, the visit has several aims. First, to assure Europe of PAP’s commitment to European values and that it regards these values as a basis for institutional processes in Armenia. Secondly, to get acquainted with European political parties and to discuss possible cooperation. Thirdly, to hear European leaders’ opinions about the internal political processes in Armenia and the prospects of reforms. Fourthly, to present to European officials the ideology of the party and its policies and programs on domestic and foreign-policy matters.

Experts say that Tsarukyan has apparently decided to diversify his ties as so far PAP has been considered to be a “provider” of Russian policies in Armenia: PAP has actively been promoting Russian geopolitical projects, including the idea of a Eurasian Union in Armenia. But European integration appears to be a more fashionable thing to be talking about in Armenia now. “One would think that Russia would try to scuttle this attempted diversification of Armenia’s foreign policy, while Tsarukyan’s ‘diversification’ will help stop PAP from turning into a blunt instrument of Russia,” writes a Lragir newspaper commentator.

Still, there is an opposite view according to which Tsarukyan may, from Brussels, declare his support for current president Sargsyan. In particular, those who predict such a scenario think that “after talking to European officials, Tsarukyan will see that Sargsyan is the only person capable of bringing Armenia into the European family.” As Oskanian says, PAP has always advocated institutionalization in Armenia based on European values. In that regard, PAP could be expected to support Sargsyan after such “assurances” from Brussels.

Meanwhile, the Armenian National Congress (ANC), the main opposition bloc in Armenia, managed on Tuesday to enlist the support of PAP and other minority faction members for applying to the Constitutional Court regarding the majority’s boycott of its earlier initiative to amend the electoral code. ANC used the occasion to once again emphasize the growing cooperation among forces opposed to the government, including with PAP.

Meanwhile, PAP has not given any clear indications yet about the possibility of fielding a single candidate with ANC and other opposition groups. As it gets closer to the nominations stage, however, experts see fewer chances of such a consolidation producing a single candidate.