President Serzh Sarkisian’s newly reshuffled government pledged to significantly reduce poverty and unemployment and establish the rule of law in Armenia in the next five years as it sought a vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian addressed the National Assembly to present the cabinet’s five-year plan of actions that sets a number of concrete socioeconomic targets, including an annual economic growth rate of 5-7 percent.
According to the government program, continued growth will result in over 100,000 new jobs, double the national minimum wage, and reduce the official poverty rate by at least 8 percentage points in 2013-2017. “Everybody must be certain that poverty and unemployment are not a destiny but a difficulty that can be overcome by daily work,” it says.
The poverty rate currently stands at an estimated 35 percent, up from 24 percent in 2008. The government blames the increased number of Armenians living below the official poverty line on the 2008-2009 global financial crisis that plunged Armenia into recession.
In his speech, Tigran Sarkisian defended the government’s five-year record fiercely criticized by the Armenian opposition, saying that it has managed to diversify the Armenian economy and thus render it less vulnerable to external shocks. The government has also increased assistance to agriculture, improved the quality of public services and financed “unprecedented” road upgrades and other infrastructure projects, he said.
The premier unveiled the program almost two weeks after he and 15 of his 18 ministers were reappointed by Serzh Sarkisian. The recently reelected president instructed the cabinet to quickly achieve socioeconomic improvements that would be “tangible and visible to every citizen.”
The program also commits the government to taking “meaningful steps to separate business from politics,” helping to make Armenian courts more independent, and cracking down on human rights abuses by law-enforcement authorities.
“A very important change which we need to expedite is a change of mentality, a change of behavioral rules that would create a law-abiding environment,” declared Tigran Sarkisian. “An environment in which privileged status, abuse of power, corruption, and being placed above the law have no place and are condemnable for everyone.”
“Yes, this a revolution – a revolution which we will carry out not in the street but in our mindsets,” he said, adding that the government is ready to cooperate with its political opponents in that endeavor.
There were no signs that such cooperation is likely, however. Gagik Tsarukian and virtually all lawmakers representing his opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) walked out of the parliament auditorium when Sarkisian took the floor. The premier also faced hostile questions from opposition deputies remaining in the chamber. Many of them related to the impending sharp rise in the price of Russian natural gas, which is expected to hit many Armenians hard.