By Ruben Meloyan
A senior government official affiliated with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) on Wednesday dismissed as “populist” its junior coalition partner’s pre-election pledge to sharply raise the country’s modest pensions and salaries.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which holds four ministerial posts in Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s cabinet, has committed itself to more than doubling the minimum monthly wage to 50,000 drams ($140) as early as next year. Its campaign manifesto also says the average pension will be raised from the current 13,400 drams ($38) to 50,000 in 2008 if the center-left nationalist party does well in next week’s parliamentary elections.
Vazgen Khachikian, the Republican head of the state pension, criticized the campaign pledges in a public debate with Deputy Social Security Minister Artsvi Minasian, a member of Dashnaktsutyun. “We take into account Armenia’s real potential for development, while the Armenian Revolutionary Federation is setting objectives which I believe can not be achieved in the foreseeable future,” said Khachikian.
The HHK program says that the average monthly amount of retirement benefits paid to more than 500,000 Armenians will reach 33,500 drams only in 2012. Dashnaktsutyun leaders, including Social Security Minister Aghvan Vartanian, insist, however, that pensions and broader public spending will grow much faster if the government combats widespread corruption and tax evasion in earnest.
Khachikian claimed that Dashnaktsutyun has set far more ambitious targets simply because it feels safe in the knowledge that it will not be running the government as a result of the May 12 elections. “An election campaign is not the best time to give lavish promises, while realizing that you are not responsible for delivering on them,” he said.
“You thereby predetermine that power will remain in your hands forever,” countered Minasian.
“Not forever, just for the next five years,” replied Khachikian. “You know well that the Republican Party leads in all opinion polls. At least, we will get more votes than Dashnaktsutyun.”
The HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, said last week that the party led by Sarkisian expects to win at least one third of the vote. Other top Republicans have said the HHK aims to do even better and grab an absolute majority of seats in the next National Assembly.
The HHK’s victory in the last parliamentary elections was rejected as fraudulent by the Armenian opposition and even Dashnaktsutyun. Opposition leaders claim that the HHK is using its government levers to rig the upcoming polls as well. The Republicans deny the claims.
(Photolur photos: Artsvi Minasian, left, and Vazgen Khachikian.)