Two leading Armenian opposition parties denounced on Wednesday what they see as secret negotiations held by the government on Armenia’s accession to the Russian-led Customs Union.
The parliamentary leaders of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party hit out at President Serzh Sarkisian for not disclosing any details of the talks that followed his unexpected decision to seek membership of the union.
“It’s a monumental issue that cannot be decided by one person,” Zharangutyun’s Zaruhi Postanjian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It cannot be solved only by the government. It cannot be solved only by the National Assembly. This is the kind of issue that has to be addressed by every citizen of Armenia.”
“This is not what the public decided in 1991,” Postanjian said, referring to a referendum in which the overwhelming majority of Armenians voted for secession from the crumbling Soviet Union.
“Serzh Sarkisian and his entourage don’t give a damn about public opinion, about the parliament,” charged the HAK’s Levon Zurabian. “They don’t consider themselves accountable to the public and are cutting some deals behind the people’s back.”
Zurabian stressed that this criticism is “equally applicable” to the Sarkisian government’s nearly four-year negotiations with the European Union over a wide-ranging Association Agreement. Those talks were essentially completed in July. Sarkisian subsequently abandoned that agreement, however, announcing in early September his decision to make Armenia part of the Russian-led bloc.
Sarkisian defended last week the lack of publicity in the accession talks with mainly Russian officials. He said his government will provide detailed explanations when the National Assembly debates a long list of legislative changes needed for joining the union.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), echoed this argument, saying that the Armenian parliament will publicly debate the matter next year. “Armenia’s decision to join the customs union was not made secretly,” he said.
Zurabian insisted, however, that the authorities have failed to substantiate that decision or clarify membership terms sought by them. “Democratic leaders may hold secret negotiations but their main directions never come as a surprise to the people,” he said.
Postanjian went further, accusing Sarkisian of “serving foreigners” at the expense of his nation. “We must start by ousting these illegitimate authorities from power and punishing them,” she said.
Zharangutyun, whose U.S.-born leader Raffi Hovannisian was Sarkisian’s main challenger in the February 2013 presidential election, has explicitly condemned the president’s U-turn. The HAK has taken a more cautious stance, decrying only the lack of transparency in Armenian foreign policy making. But the two opposition parties agree that Sarkisian has no mandate to make such strategic choices.