By Emil Danielyan
With only one day to go before his resignation, President Robert Kocharian delivered a farewell address to the nation on Tuesday, saying that Armenia has become one of the world’s fastest developing countries during his decade-long rule.
“Progress in the country’s modernization is obvious, and the life of citizens has improved considerably,” Kocharian said in a televised speech. “There are few countries in the world whose pace of development is comparable to Armenia’s.”
“At the same time, it is obvious that a lot remains to be done. The quality of life is still far from a desirable level,” he said.
According to official statistics, the Armenian economy expanded at a double-digit rate for the sixth consecutive year in 2007. The government says the proportion of Armenians living below the official poverty line has dropped from over 50 percent to 27 percent as a result. But government critics dismiss the figure, saying that the robust growth has primarily benefited the rich. They also point to the widening development gap between Yerevan and the rest of the country.
“I apologize to those whose life has not improved during these years,” said Kocharian. “To those whose expectations have not been lived up to, whose dreams have not been realized.”
The outgoing president insisted at the same time that he has done his best to ease the plight of many Armenians impoverished following the Soviet collapse. “I have worked with a tight schedule and saved no effort,” he said. “At least, I have fulfilled all the promises that I gave to voters.”
Kocharian did not say whether he has democratized Armenia’s political system or improved its human rights record over the past decade. The 53-year-old leader has twice won presidential elections marred by reports of fraud and repeatedly cracked on his political opponents to hold on to power. The most recent and harshest of the crackdowns was launched following last February’s presidential election which was controversially won by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Kocharian’s longtime close associate.
Kocharian also said in his televised address that he trusts in his successor’s “ability to govern the country effectively.”
Sarkisian will be sworn in as Armenia’s next president on Tuesday during a special session of parliament to be held in the national Opera House in Yerevan. The inauguration will be followed by a military parade in the adjacent Liberty Square, the scene of post-election demonstrations staged by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. The authorities are also expected to block nearby streets in the city center in an effort to prevent opposition supporters from disrupting the ceremony.
(Presidential press service photo)