By Emil Danielyan
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian has made public his presidential election manifesto that promises to turn Armenia into a “strong democratic state” where all citizens are equal before law and live in an “atmosphere of mutual respect, love and indulgence.”
The highly conceptual document contains no target figures, specific government policies or legislative measures envisaged by Sarkisian. But it does set ambitious goals such as complete elimination of poverty and Armenia’s transformation into the regional finance and healthcare centers.
“We will do everything to ensure that poverty and unemployment are finally overcome in Armenia, that life of the ordinary person is made better as early as possible, that our country becomes more secure, that we live in a strong democratic state and have a just society,” reads the 10-page document posted on Sarkisian’s campaign website.
Sarkisian says he intends to achieve this through “second-generation reforms” which his government undertook to implement as it got a vote of confidence from Armenia’s newly elected parliament in June last year. The reforms are meant to strengthen the rule of law, reduce government corruption and improve the country’s flawed business environment.
Sarkisian pledges to create “the best conditions for business and investment” but does not specify concrete steps which he will take if he wins the February 19 vote. “The solution to corruption, the shadow economy and unequal competition conditions lies in the domain of effective governance and requires a cohesive change in governance techniques, means and methods,” says his manifesto.
The campaign platform goes on to call for a “meaningful and consistent fight against corruption” and a crackdown on widespread tax evasion. It says Sarkisian would not hesitate to punish even those delinquent businesspeople who have “personal ties” to himself or his close associates.
These pledges will be dismissed by opposition leaders who have long accused Sarkisian as well as outgoing President Robert Kocharian of developing extensive business interests and sponsoring wealthy businessmen who have effectively monopolized lucrative sectors of the Armenian economy. Those businessmen are also widely suspected of capitalizing on their governments ties to underreport their revenues.
Sarkisian further commits himself to significantly raising the quality of life in Armenia in the event of succeeding Kocharian as head of state. “Financial services will be more affordable and accessible all over Armenia,” he says. “Every newly formed family will have the opportunity to buy an apartment and a car.”
“Everyone will have access to healthcare. The quality of medical services will substantially improve through the introduction of new, high technologies in the healthcare system,” says his campaign platform. It also promises a “decent life” to hundreds of thousands of Armenian pensioners.
On the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Sarkisian says any peace deal with Azerbaijan must uphold the Karabakh Armenians’ “right to self-determination” and ensure that Armenia continues to have a “common border” with the disputed territory. The Karabakh-born prime minister believes that it must take the form of a single “package” containing “solutions to all issues.” But in what might be an expression of support for international mediators’ current peace proposal, he admits that the conflict’s resolution requires “several steps.”
Sarkisian makes it clear at the same time that he would not make unilateral concessions on Karabakh and the Armenian genocide issue in order to satisfy Turkey’s preconditions for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations. The foreign policy section of his manifesto is otherwise vague. It says only that Armenian foreign policy must become “more active” and ensure Armenia’s “influential participation in international and especially regional processes.”
Sarkisian also vows to help ensure the proper conduct of the upcoming presidential ballot, saying it will show that “the holding of democratic elections in Armenia is already a tradition.”
“We will do everything within the framework of law to ensure that the elections are free and fair,” a spokesman for the Armenian premier, Eduard Sharmazanov, told RFE/RL on Monday. “Serzh Sarkisian’s election campaign team condemns and will condemn any violation of law.”
International observers described as largely democratic the Armenian parliamentary elections of May 2007 which ended in a landslide victory for Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK). The Armenian opposition, however, claimed that the vote was rigged by the authorities. Opposition leaders continue to view Sarkisian as one of the architects of the country’s culture of electoral fraud.