Armenia’s four main political parties challenging President Serzh Sarkisian issued a list of concrete demands to his administration on Tuesday, warning that failure to meet them could lead them to make a joint push for power.
In a joint declaration publicly signed by their parliamentary leaders, the Prosperous Armenia (BHK), Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun parties as well as the Armenian National Congress (HAK) gave the authorities until the end of September to address the opposition concerns. They said they will rally supporters in Yerevan this autumn to discuss the government response and decide on “further joint actions.”
The publicized agenda contains 12 mostly socioeconomic demands which the four parties say are essential for meeting challenges facing Armenia. In particular, they want the Sarkisian administration to explicitly halt a controversial pension reform, cut taxes for small businesses, sharply increase subsidies to farmers, keep public transport fares unchanged and break up de facto economic monopolies.
They also demanded amendments to the Electoral Code mandating the conduct of parliamentary elections only on a party-list basis and introducing what the opposition regards as a crucial safeguard against vote rigging. The joint declaration further makes clear that Armenia must not join a Russian-led alliance of ex-Soviet states if it is told to end its “common economic regime” with Nagorno-Karabakh.
While announcing plans for the joint anti-government rally in Yerevan’s Liberty Square, the four parties were vague about what they will do if the authorities fully or partly reject their demands. Two of them, the BHK and Dashnaktsutyun, again underlined their reluctance to demand President Sarkisian’s resignation.
“Serzh Sarkisian’s removal alone would not save the country. We need to know what system we would have after that,” Armen Rustamian, the leader of Dashnaktsutyun’s parliamentary faction, told a joint news conference.
Naira Zohrabian, who signed the document on behalf of the BHK, also stopped short of describing regime change as a common opposition goal. “But we have no taboo issues,” she added, referring to the BHK.
By contrast, the HAK’s Levon Zurabian made clear that his party led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian regards the 12-point list as “the first phase” of a joint opposition drive to topple Sarkisian. “We believe that the country’s main scourge is Serzh Sarkisian’s regime,” said Zurabian. “But we also realize that we need to draw up a common agenda [with the three other parties] that would allow us to make this ongoing political process much more effective.”
Zharangutyun likewise does not view Sarkisian as a legitimate president and stands for his ouster.
Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which holds the majority of parliament seats, reacted largely positively to the opposition demands, saying that most of them are in tune with its own economic agenda. “The HHK is very happy that the opposition forces have finally come up with very sound proposals,” said Vahram Baghdasarian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader. “A constructive opposition desired by us is finally emerging.”
Baghdasarian emphasized the fact that the opposition quartet stopped short of demanding the president’s resignation. “I’m glad the opposition has realized that a change of individuals won’t solve the country’s problems,” he said.
The four parliamentary minority parties have increasingly cooperated over the past year, jointly voting against government bills and drafting alternative legal amendments. In early April, they decided to seek a parliamentary vote of no confidence in then Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet and hold joint street protests in support of that motion. Sarkisian stepped down several days later, making the opposition offensive meaningless.