A Yerevan-based pressure group said on Friday that it will stage another larger demonstration next month to protest against the authorities’ plans to raise the electricity prices in Armenia for a third time in two years.
The non-partisan group called No To Plunder rallied thousands of people in Yerevan on Wednesday in an effort to prevent a more than 40 percent price rise requested by the national power utility, the Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA). It was joined by leaders of the country’s main opposition parties.
Vaghinak Shushanian, a member of No To Plunder, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the group has scheduled the next demonstration for June 19. He said it will conduct a publicity campaign in the next three weeks to ensure that the rally attracts “three or four times as many people.”
“Right from the beginning we opted for a tactic of street struggle,” said Shushanian. “That means we see no need to embark on a dialogue with any political force or the authorities.”
Armenia’s Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) is expected to rule on the ENA request to raise the energy tariffs before June 19.
Energy and Natural Resources Minister Yervand Zakharian implied on Thursday that the regulatory body will approve a more modest price rise than is sought by the ENA. Zakharian stood by his arguments that higher prices are indispensable for enabling the Russian-owned company to sort out its serious financial problems.
No To Plunder, the Armenian opposition and other government critics believe that massive losses incurred by the ENA result from poor management, rather than the existing electricity fees.
Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), made clear on Friday that the authorities are listening to the critics’ arguments but will not necessarily accept them. Baghdasarian spoke of a risk of “the collapse of the energy system.”
Meanwhile, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Artem Asatrian gave further indications that electricity will soon become even more expensive for Armenian households. He said the government is already preparing to compensate people living below the official poverty line.
Asatrian noted that the government raised by 1,000 drams ($2.1) monthly poverty benefits paid to more than 100,000 poor families when the electricity price rose by 10 percent in August last year.