President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) will considerably reduce the number of wealthy businesspeople representing it in the country’s parliament, a senior lawmaker said on Friday.
Gagik Minasian predicted that such individuals will not be on the HHK’s list of candidates who will contest the May 2012 parliamentary elections under the system of proportional representation. Minasian pointed to Sarkisian’s recent pledge to separate government and business.
“There is no [formal] decision, but there is public demand and there is the position of the president of the republic,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview. “And I think this will be formalized in the decisions of our party’s leadership bodies.”
“I suppose that big entrepreneurs will have to cede their places on the proportional representation lists to more politically oriented figures. Their role in the state’s development is no less important. But [politics] is a special area.”
“In this regard, I believe that the model accepted in civilized Western countries should be replicated by us,” added the chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on finance and budgetary affairs.
Wealthy individuals make up a large proportion of the HHK’s parliamentary faction, the largest in the current National Assembly. The Armenian media has for months been rife with speculation that Sarkisian wants to replace many of them by more educated but equally loyal figures.
The president gave more weight to this speculation in early November when he stated that “business must be consistently separated from the state system and the authority.” This, he said, is essential for a radical “transformation” of Armenia.
“The merger of business and politics never leads to anything good,” Minasian said, echoing statements by opposition politicians and other government critics
Only 90 of the 131 seats in the National Assembly are due to be up for grabs on the party-list basis. The remaining seats will be contested by individual candidates in 41 nationwide constituencies.
Minasian, who is also a member of the HHK’s governing body, would not say if businesspeople affiliated or linked with the presidential party will be allowed to run for parliament on an individual basis.
Aram Manukian, a senior member of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), seized upon this ambiguity to play down Minasian’s statement. He suggested that most of the so-called “oligarchs” holding parliament seats will have no trouble seeking reelection.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Manukian said this is why the HAK and other opposition forces are pushing for the abolition of the single-seat constituencies. The Sarkisian administration should accept this demand if it is serious about reducing oligarchs’ presence in the next parliament, he said.
The vast majority of individuals elected to the current parliament under the first-past-the-post system are government-connected businessmen. Many of them hold sway in specific parts of Yerevan and the rest of the country. The opposition has long accused them of bribing and bullying voters on government orders.