In a vote of confidence boycotted by its opposition factions, the Armenian government approved on Thursday a three-year plan of actions submitted by the recently appointed Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian and his cabinet.
The policy program was backed by 70 members of the 131-seat National Assembly, virtually all of them affiliated with President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest parliamentary force, and four other parties officially in opposition to Sarkisian did not take part in the vote. One of them, Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law), was part of the previous cabinet headed by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.
The three other opposition factions -- the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun parties -- said they would have preferred to vote against the document but opted for the boycott at the BHK’s request. The four parties have closely cooperated in the past several months. Tigran Sarkisian’s resignation last month is widely regarded as being the result of their joint activities.
Stepan Markarian, a senior BHK lawmaker, said before the vote that his party led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian will not back the new government because the latter has failed to acknowledge what the BHK sees as grave mistakes made by Sarkisian’s cabinet. He claimed that it “ruined the economy.”
The HAK’s parliamentary leader, Levon Zurabian, pointed to the controversial composition of the reshuffled government. “One gets the impression that Armenia’s most discredited, controversial and corrupt official were rounded up and appointed to the government,” Zurabian. He argued that Abrahamian and some of his ministers are known to be wealthy individuals who have made big fortunes while holding various state positions.
Opposition politicians cite this fact to dismiss Abrahamian’s repeated promises to separate business from politics and put in place “equal conditions” for all entrepreneurs. The premier assured the parliament during the debates that government-linked tycoons will no longer be able to exploit their connections to neutralize competitors.
“For the first time ever the government notes a very important thing: the citizen of Armenia will be at the center of its attention, its top priority,” said Vartan Ayvazian, a senior lawmaker representing the ruling HHK.
The government program projects that the Armenian economy will grow by an average of 5 percent annually in the next few years. It also commits the government to reducing the official poverty rate by 10 percentage points.
Speaking before the pro-government lawmakers after winning the vote of confidence, Abrahamian pledged to address the opposition criticism and called for “solidarity and tolerance” among the country’s main political forces. “The authorities and the opposition are in the same ship,” he said.
Abrahamian at the same time condemned “venomous” verbal attacks on his government voiced by unnamed opposition deputies. He said they are disrespectful towards many voters.
The premier appeared to refer to Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken deputy nominally representing the BHK who subjected him and his ministers to particularly harsh criticism during parliament debates on Wednesday. In remarks that provoked angry responses from Abrahamian and HHK deputies, Pashinian charged that with their conspicuous wealth they embody endemic corruption in Armenia.
“As long as this regime headed by Serzh Sarkisian exists the Republic of Armenia will have only one national brand: corruption,” Pashinian declared. “Don’t’ look for other brands.”