President Serzh Sarkisian described ensuring faster economic development and reducing poverty in Armenia as his top priority for the next five years on Tuesday as he was sworn in for a second term more than one month after a disputed presidential election.
Speaking at his inauguration ceremony in Yerevan boycotted by leading opposition forces, he also pledged to establish the rule of law and democratize the country’s political system.
Placing his right hand on the Armenian constitution and a 7th century Bible, Sarkisian took the oath of office at a special session of the National Assembly that was also attended by hundreds of local and foreign dignitaries. His predecessor, Robert Kocharian, was among them.
“For the forthcoming five years, I consider economic development the number one priority of our state and nation,” Sarkisian said in an ensuing speech. “A whole array of problems that Armenia is facing is in this very plane. Let me highlight the three main ones: emigration, unemployment, and poverty.”
Sarkisian seemed to acknowledge widespread popular discontent with the economic situation in the country, which was exposed by his main challenger Raffi Hovannisian’s stronger-than-expected performance in the February 18 presidential election. He said Armenians who voted for Hovannisian and other opposition candidates are “demanding more efficient work” from the government. “Rest assured that all messages are duly received,” he said.
Sarkisian took office five years ago shortly before the onset of a global financial crisis that caused Armenia’s Gross Domestic Product to shrink by over 14 percent in 2009. The Armenian economy has still not fully recovered from the slump despite growing, according to official statistics, by over 7 percent last year.
“The second priority is ensuring the rule of law,” the president continued in his speech. “Equality of everyone before the law is a necessary condition both for our economic and political advancement.”
“The third priority, most directly linked to the rule of law, is the deepening of democracy … In five years from now, we will have a totally new, much higher level of democracy,” he added.
The Armenian opposition will brush aside these promises, having accused Sarkisian of rigging the February 18 ballot. Hovannisian repeated the allegations of vote rigging as he rallied thousands of supporters in Yerevan’s Liberty Square in a protest timed to coincide with Sarkisian’s inauguration.
The presidential swearing-in was boycotted by the parliament deputies from Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party and the two other major opposition groups: the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
Gagik Tsarukian, whose Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) was a key member of Sarkisian’s ruling coalition until last year, was also conspicuously absent from the ceremony. However, other BHK lawmakers, virtually all of them wealthy businessmen, were in attendance. One of them, Gurgen Arsenian, claimed that Tsarukian’s absence is not politically motivated.
Sarkisian also mentioned the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in his speech, saying that Armenia will continue to strengthen its armed forces in the face of Azerbaijan’s growing threats to end the dispute by force. “We do not want war but at the same time we are ready to confront any challenge,” he said.
“We offered our neighbors dignified peace, anchored to universal human values,” added the Karabakh-born president. “But the experience of recent years has demonstrated that they are not ready to accept the offer. The tougher, in their own opinion, the conditions they create for us, the stronger we become. And this will be becoming increasingly visible.”