By Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s newly formed government received a predictable vote of confidence in parliament on Wednesday as lawmakers overwhelmingly endorsed its four-year policy program based on President Serzh Sarkisian’s election manifesto.
The National Assembly approved the program by 88 votes to 3 after two days of debates. Only its sole opposition faction representing the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party of Raffi Hovannisian rejected the document. The four other parliamentary parties are all represented in Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet and their support for the latter was never in doubt.
“The National Assembly is ready to fully assist the government in the implementation of this program,” speaker Tigran Torosian said after the vote.
“I want to assure everyone that you won’t find any difference between our actions and words,” Tigran Sarkisian told lawmakers.
At the heart of his government’s policy agenda is President Sarkisian’s pledges to implement “second-generation reforms” that would strengthen the rule of law in Armenia and improve its flawed business environment. The government says such reforms as well as continued low inflation and budgetary deficits are essential for maintaining the country’s strong economic growth.
Prime Minister Sarkisian also outlined his coalition cabinet’s political agenda as he presented the program to the parliament on Tuesday. He pledged to strive to unite a nation deeply divided over the conduct of last February’s presidential election and ensuing dramatic developments.
“We won’t be looking for circumstances that have divided us in the past and will instead try to uncover future-oriented ideas uniting us,” he said. “We ourselves will uncover our shortcomings and failings and publicly talk about them. We have to be tough, audacious and just.”
The 48-year-old premier said his government will be open to “constructive criticism” but will not put up with “destructive anti-state steps” taken by its radical opponents. By the same token, he added, the government will be responsive to media criticism, while being more assertive in “defending honest officials against lies and defamation.”
Sarkisian further stated that Yerevan will not “blindly follow” European standards for democracy and human rights. In a separate conversation with journalists he spoke of “values that do not befit the Armenian person, the Christian person” but declined to specify them.
“Human rights, freedom of speech are not European values, they are Armenian values,” he said, advising reporters to look into the works of a medieval Armenian clergyman. “The artificial notion that we must embrace the European value system is offensive,” continued Sarkisian. “It is offensive to every person who considers himself an Armenian and has dignity because the European value system should be anchored in the Christian value system. And yet today we can see many European ugly things, deviations from that value system.”