Former President Robert Kocharian condemned as illegal the planned privatization of Armenia’s largest hydroelectric plants on Monday as he continued to step up his criticism of the current government’s economic policies.
In a fresh public statement highlighting his possible return to active politics, Kocharian implied that corrupt motives may have been behind this and other controversial government decisions. He also effectively endorsed a list of demands that have been issued to President Serzh Sarkisian by the Armenian opposition.
In written remarks to Yerkir.am, Kocharian decried the sale of the Vorotan Hydro Cascade to a U.S. energy company, ContourGlobal, which was tentatively agreed in January. Under a takeover agreement signed with the Armenian government, the New York-based firm is to pay $180 million and invest $70 million in the three plants making up the cascade. With a combined operational capacity of 405 megawatts, they are nearly as powerful as the Metsamor nuclear plant that accounts for roughly 40 percent of Armenian electricity production.
The Sarkisian administration subsequently put the sale, strongly backed by the U.S. government, on hold for reasons that are not yet clear. Armenian officials have said only that ContourGlobal is currently considering last-minute changes in the deal demanded by Yerevan.
“The only good thing about that deal is the involvement of a U.S. company in the Armenian energy sector,” Kocharian told Yerkir.am. “Everything else does not fit into the bounds of common sense.”
Kocharian, who himself had been denounced by his political opponents for ceding many energy assets to Russia while in power, claimed that the deal is illegal because it has not been authorized by the Armenian parliament. He said it would only benefit the American company by pushing up the price of electricity generated at Vorotan. “Before it’s too late, the acquisition must be seriously revised or abandoned altogether,” he said.
Parliamentary approval of the deal is one of the 12 mostly socioeconomic demands that were jointly issued on June 10 by Armenia’s four main parties challenging Sarkisian. One of those parties, Prosperous Armenia (BHK), is led by Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman close to Kocharian. The opposition quartet has implicitly threatened to stage anti-government rallies if its demands are fully or partly rejected by Sarkisian.
The BHK and its opposition allies want, among other things, Armenia’s next parliamentary elections to be held only on a party-list list basis. Kocharian voiced support for this idea, despite having ensured during his 1998-2008 presidency that a large part of parliament seats are distributed in single-mandate constituencies.
The existence of those constituencies has been critical for the disputed electoral victories of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Not surprisingly, the HHK remains opposed to their abolition.
Kocharian also echoed strong opposition criticism of a new mechanism of enforcing fines for traffic violations and collecting car parking fees in Yerevan that has been introduced by the government in recent years. Most of that money goes to two private firms that have installed surveillance cameras on major roads in and outside the capital.
“According unrefuted media reports, those companies are connected to officials,” said Kocharian. He seemed to allude to newspaper allegations that their owners are close friends of President Sarkisian and his controversial brother Aleksandr.
Kocharian similarly suggested that the “insatiability” of unnamed Armenian officials is the key factor behind Vorotan’s planned privatization. The ex-president did not allege, even indirectly, corrupt practices within the government in his previous statements.