Former President Robert Kocharian has called for a radical improvement of Armenia’s business environment, saying that the authorities must break up economic monopolies, create a level playing field for all firms and tackle corruption.
In an interview with the Russian-Armenian newspaper “Noev Kovcheg” published on Friday, Kocharian also offered a grim outlook for the Armenian economy.
“Unfortunately, I see no internal and external causes for positive evaluations of the state and prospects of our economy. Furthermore, there have emerged new threats of global character, and the extent of their impact needs to be evaluated,” he said, pointing to Western economic sanctions against Russia which may well have knock-on effects on Armenia.
Kocharian said the sanctions could also complicate the normal functioning of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union which Armenia plans to join this year. “Thus, we have entered e period of big negative expectations,” he added.
Asked what the Armenian authorities should do in this situation, Kocharian replied, “To create a fair competitive environment for businesses, especially small and medium-sized ones. This cannot be done without de-monopolizing the economy and reining in the appetites of influential officials and their cronies. To give the society a clear signal that any entrepreneurial initiative is welcome and will be supported regardless of whose interests it touches upon.”
Successive governments formed by President Serzh Sarkisian, who took over from Kocharian in 2008, have claimed to be doing just that. The Armenian opposition has dismissed these stated efforts as unserious.
Kocharian faced the same allegations from his political opponents during his 1998-2008 presidency. They accused him as well as Sarkisian, his then ally, of monopolizing, directly or through “oligarchs” close to them, the most lucrative sectors of the Armenian economy and blocking the rule of law. Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian made the dismantling of this “kleptocratic system” the central theme of his campaign for the February 2008 presidential election in which he made a strong showing.
Kocharian defended, however, his economic track record, arguing that economic growth in Armenia averaged over 10 percent annually during his decade-long rule. This, he said, testifies to the “high efficiency of governance in that period.”
Over the past two years Kocharian has increasingly criticized the Sarkisian administration’s economic policies amid mounting speculation that he is plotting a political comeback through the Prosperous Armenia Party of Gagik Tsarukian, a businessman close to him.
Kocharian’s interview with “Noev Kovcheg” could be interpreted by observers as another sign of his imminent return to active politics. “I constantly learn something, engulf huge amounts of special [economic] literature, travel, and accumulate knowledge,” said the ex-president who will turn 60 on Sunday. “I don’t know if I will get to apply that in politics. Everything depends on circumstances.”