By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Hrach Melkumian
President Robert Kocharian approved on Friday first steps in the widely expected government reshuffle planned by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. Minister for State Revenues Andranik Manukian and Minister for Transport and Communications Yervand Zakharian were ordered to swap their posts by a presidential decree.
Manukian, whose relations with Markarian have reportedly deteriorated over the past several weeks, was initially expected to leave the cabinet and take over as new head of the presidential oversight service. The minister has vigorously defended his eight-month track record, citing improved collection of taxes and customs fees.
Andranik Manukian, the newly appointment minister of transport and communications
Officials in the premier’s Republican Party (HHK) have also praised his performance. “We are fully satisfied with his activities, they have been positive” the Republican leader in the parliament, Galust Sahakian, told RFE/RL.
Meeting earlier in the day, the cabinet decided to separate the state customs department from the ministry for state revenues, making it responsible only for tax collection. Markarian will be able to name the head of the new agency without presidential endorsement.
The HHK’s Sahakian confirmed reports that more ministerial changes are likely to take place in the coming days. “We are trying to improve the process of governance before big systemic changes,” he explained, adding that the Republicans have given Markarian a carte blanche to decide on cabinet appointments.
The reshuffle comes as the HHK seeks to broaden its shaky support base in the parliament. Some observers say the collapse of its Miasnutyun alliance with the People’s Party (HZhK), which has the biggest faction in the parliament, is just a matter of time.
But Markarian’s first steps were dismissed on Monday by the leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), one of the minority parties in the National Assembly that could join a new governing coalition. “I don’t see any logic in these ministerial movements,” said Vahan Hovannisian.