Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian criticized the Armenian government’s economic policies and signaled his readiness to challenge President Serzh Sarkisian more forcefully at the weekend.
“I am prepared for any development, any scenario,” Tsarukian said in a speech at a BHK congress in Yerevan. “You all understand that I am choosing this path not for material benefits or vanity considerations. I have nothing to prove to anyone. But I can’t stand by and watch my country weaken by the day.”
Tsarukian singled out lingering socioeconomic hardship, saying that Armenians are increasingly losing hope for a better life. “Foreign investment in Armenia has decreased by more than 40 percent,” he said. “This means that capital avoids our country and goes to other countries, contributing to their welfare.”
The tycoon, whose party has the second largest parliamentary faction, condemned as “inhuman” the government’s controversial pension reform that has sparked street protests in recent weeks. He also effectively dismissed government arguments that the Armenian economy grew much faster under former President Robert Kocharian, the man regarded by some pundits as Tsarukian’s political patron, only because of a “construction bubble.” “They are still not managing to find the kind of a key to reviving and developing the economy which construction was in 2000-2007,” he said.
Kocharian has repeatedly hit out at the current government in recent weeks for downplaying the significance of economic growth registered during his 1998-2008 presidency. The verbal attacks have rekindled speculation about his desire to return to politics with the BHK’s help.
While criticizing the government, Tsarukian shed little on his and his party’s next moves as he addressed the gathering which journalists were not allowed to attend. “In case of protests and discontent by various strata of the society the party should stand by those people, listen to their grievances and try to achieve just solutions to them,” he said without elaborating.
Neither Tsarukian nor other senior BHK figures like former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian called on President Sarkisian to step down. Speaking to journalists, Oskanian said the BHK is seeking instead the resignation of Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and the other cabinet members for the time being.
“But we do not exclude anything,” added Oskanian. “We know who are primarily responsible for the situation the country is in.”
Another senior BHK member, Naira Zohrabian, implied that regime change will be on the agenda of the BHK’s growing cooperation with the country’s establishmed opposition parties, including Levon Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK). “No official in the Republic of Armenia must think that they inherited their post and can hold on to it for good,” she said.
Aram Manukian, a senior member of the HAK, was quick to praise Tsarukian’s speech. “In particular, the non-rejection of the option of fighting in the streets is noteworthy for us,” Manukian told ilur.am. “Such an approach allows for the consolidation of political forces and their joint struggle both inside and outside the parliament.”
The HAK plans to hold its first major anti-government rally in months on March 1.