The Armenian parliament rejected on Thursday a motion to demand sweeping government measures which its opposition minority believes would break up business monopolies and boost competition in the country.
The pro-government majority in the National Assembly blocked a relevant bill that was drafted by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and backed by other minority factions.
The bill calls on the Armenian government to draw up and implement “a program of urgent measures aimed at the elimination of illegal monopolies.”
One of the resulting changes in Armenian anti-trust legislation would ban any company from having a more than 33 percent share in all areas of economic activity other than public utilities. Another measure would sharply raise fines imposed on companies enjoying dominant positions in a particular sector.
The HAK motion also called for a “clear separation of government and business.” It stipulated that businesspeople who are elected to the parliament or appointed to government positions must transfer their assets to state bodies.
The government reaffirmed its opposition to the bill as the parliament began debating it late on Wednesday. Economy Minister Tigran Davtian denied the existence of economic monopolies in Armenia, saying that there are only business entities with “dominant positions” in some markets.
“We will fight not against monopolies and dominant positions but against the abuse of dominant positions,” said Davtian.
The HAK’s parliamentary leader, Levon Zurabian, slammed the government, calling it an “devoted advocate of the monopolies and systemic corruption.” Zurabian listed sectors of the economy which he said have been monopolized by businesspeople close to the government.
Predictably, the HAK proposals were voted down by the parliament majority representing the governing Republican (HHK) and Orinats Yerkir parties the following morning. Many HHK deputies have extensive business interests. Some of them, notably Samvel Aleksanian, have long controlled lucrative imports of basic foodstuffs and fuel to the country.
Speaking to journalists, Aleskanian denied having monopolized any sector of the Armenian economy. He also claimed that he is not engaged in business anymore.
“Of course, there are business monopolies in Armenia,” acknowledged Armen Mkhitarian, another HHK deputy. Nevertheless, Mkhitarian voted against the opposition bill.
The bill was unexpectedly backed by two other HHK deputies. One of them, Garegin Nushikian, is a wealthy entrepreneur.
Senior government officials have acknowledged that a lack of business competition is a serious obstacle to faster economic growth in Armenia. Last year, the government pushed through parliament legal amendments that gave more powers to the antitrust State Commission on the Protection Economic Competition.