By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Karine Kalantarian
The recently reshuffled government of Armenia formally presented a four-year plan of action to the parliament on Thursday amid the continuing boycott of its sessions by the two main opposition groups.
Under Armenian law, the absence of a vote of no confidence in the executive by Friday will amount to its automatic approval by the National Assembly.
The opposition Artarutyun (Justice) bloc and the National Unity Party have only 25 seats there, or far less than the minimum of 44 seats required for putting a motion of censure. Leaders of the opposition have said that their participation in the proceedings would legitimize Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s coalition government which they believe was formed as a result of rigged parliamentary elections.
Markarian avoided any mention of the opposition boycott as he spoke before the parliament majority loyal to President Robert Kocharian. “I hope that the government will have your unwavering support both now and in the next four years,” he said.
The program, which promises a sweeping reduction in widespread poverty, was jointly authored by the three coalition partners: Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Orinats Yerkir Party led by the current parliament speaker, Artur Baghdasarian. It calls for increased government spending on education, health care and social programs which would in turn lead to a major increase in public sector salaries.
The coalition also promises a tough government crackdown on endemic corruption, which is seen as a serious hurdle to the impoverished country’s democratization and economic development. Markarian admitted that it will not be an easy task.
“The roots of the problem are so deep that it existed even before [the birth] of Christ,” he said. “We must create such an environment and a legal framework that will help us uproot it.”
Markarian had already vowed to fight against corruption in a “merciless” way shortly after being appointed prime minister in May 2000. However, corrupt government practices have since continued unabated. Dashnaktsutyun leaders, highlighting their frustration with the authorities’ failure to scale them down, have suggested the creation of a special anti-corruption body. It is still not clear whether Kocharian and the two other coalition parties back the idea, however.
Officials say the success of the program hinges on continued robust economic growth and the resulting increase in the government’s tax revenues. In Markarian’s words, its implementation is “risky” but realistic. “We commit ourselves to achieving the promised indicators,” he said.
Baghdasarian, for his part, said: “If the program is put into practice, many social problems will be resolved.”
The importance of its full implementation was also emphasized by Karen Karapetian, the leader of the People’s Deputy group uniting 17 pro-presidential lawmakers not affiliated with any party. “I have never seen a bad program presented by a party or political force,” he said. “It is those who implement a program that can be bad or good.”
The boycotting opposition deputies were far more skeptical. “The government can not leave the opposition jobless; there is no way it can implement the program,” Artarutyun’s Grigor Harutiunian told RFE/RL.
Another deputy, Tatul Manaserian, dismissed the 40-page document as too vague. He also accused the government of copying and “distorting” some ideas contained in Artarutyun’s election platform.