By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian pushed through the Armenian parliament on Tuesday his coalition government’s five-year plan of actions that promises good governance, continued economic growth and a sharp reduction in poverty.
In what amounted to a vote of confidence in the recently formed cabinet, the National Assembly voted by 94 to 7, with 7 abstentions, for the program just days after it was approved and unveiled by ministers.
The detailed program commits the government to ensuring an annual economic growth rate of at least eight percent and cutting the proportion of Armenians living below the official poverty line from the current 30 percent to 12 percent by 2012. It describes national security, sustainable development, good governance and increased public spending on social programs and education as the chief government priorities. The document also envisages the elimination of a huge development gap between Yerevan and the rest of the country.
“The document is quite ambitious and will require maximum concentration from all employees of state bodies,” Sarkisian told the overwhelmingly loyal lawmakers.
The goals laid out by him are supposed to be achieved through what officials call “second-generation reforms.” One of their main objectives is the strengthening of business competition and a fight against widespread corruption. Sarkisian has long been accused by his critics of sponsoring corrupt government officials and government-connected businessmen that enjoy de facto monopolies on lucrative forms of economic activity. Many of the so-called “oligarchs” are affiliated with his Republican Party (HHK) and hold parliament seats.
Sarkisian had apparently them in mind when he said, “Tax evasion and corruption must been seen as a dishonorable phenomenon condemned by the public. We must not tolerate a lenient approach within our ranks and we must start from ourselves. We must not take into account family ties and must not regard as friends those individuals who will avoid paying taxes.”
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian, who voted against the bill along with six other deputies affiliated with his Zharangutyun party, questioned the credibility of these far-reaching promises during the ensued debates. “Do you accept the disparity between the proposed program and our reality?” he asked Sarkisian. “What mechanisms is the government proposing in order to implement the program goals?”
Sarkisian insisted that there are such mechanisms. He also condemned Hovannisian’s remark that the government displayed an “unserious approach” to the opposition and Armenians in general by circulating the full text of the program just one day before the parliament debate.
“I think you must apologize for such accusations because throughout my life I have treated our people and society with respect and will not allow anyone to stir up turbulence,” the HHK leader said.
“I apologize for the impression of personal offense, but we will never apologize for actions at aimed at protecting the rights and freedom of our citizens,” replied Hovannisian.
Orinats Yerkir, the other opposition party represented in the current assembly, was more positive about the government program. “We see positive points in it,” its leader, former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, said. “It would be very nice if they are put into practice,”
Unlike their colleagues from Zharangutyun, the Orinats Yerkir legislators abstained during the vote. “We don’t want to start out with a negative vote,” explained Baghdasarian.