By Hrach Melkumian
The Armenian government moved Thursday to pay back wages of state airline employees, subsidize local communities and keep unchanged charges for irrigation water in an apparent effort to gain additional votes in Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
The government, dominated by members and supporters of the Republican Party (HHK), disbursed 646 million drams ($1.24 million) in public funds for the 1,500-strong staff of the crumbling Armenian Airlines who have not been paid for months.
Pilots and other personnel of the state-run carrier, which was declared bankrupt recently, have staged a series of protests against the wage arrears. Most of them have already lost their jobs as a result of Armenian Airlines’ de facto liquidation. The majority of the company’s flight rights were sold to a Russian-owned private carrier, Armavia, for $15 million in March.
In a separate move, the government allocated 78 million drams in subsidies to the administrations of two Armenian towns and 12 villages without any explanation. Ministers, many of whom are running for parliament on the HHK ticket, took similar decisions during the previous cabinet meetings.
Cultural organizations representing Armenia’s small ethnic minorities will be other beneficiaries of the government’s pre-election largesse. They will get a total of 10 million drams for their activities, officials said.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s cabinet also reached out to another, much bigger segment of the electorate: hundreds of thousands of farmers highly dependent on irrigation water. The government said it will not press ahead with plans to increase water fees by 15 percent. The decision was announced by the head of its Committee For Water Resources, Gagik Martirosian, at a special news conference.
Farmers across the country have long complained that the existing irrigation tariffs are already disproportionately high.