By Armen Zakarian
Armenians remain overwhelmingly skeptical about the success of their government’s declared fight against corruption with almost half of them believing that it itself is the biggest obstacle to the rule of law, according to a new poll made public on Thursday.
The survey conducted by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), a private think-tank, shows that nearly two thirds of about 2,000 people interviewed across the country are not familiar with an anti-corruption strategy unveiled by the authorities last year.
Only 5 percent of them are confident that it will be successfully implemented, ACNIS pollsters said. Forty-nine percent said they would subscribe to the view that “a corrupt regime can not fight against itself.” Others attributed the perceived lack of results in the stated anti-graft crusade to government incompetence and pervasive influence of business “oligarchs.”
The authorities’ anti-corruption plan approved by Western donors is a set of largely legislative measures designed to curb illegal practices such as bribery and nepotism. A special body headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian was formed earlier this year to oversee its implementation. The Council on Combating Corruption in turn set up a “monitoring commission.”
The success of the council’s stated mission was called into question in June by a senior representative of the Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International. He said the body is likely to be ineffectual because it is not independent.
According to the ACNIS survey, the most common popular perception of the problem’s root causes is a political one, with 42.8 percent saying that Armenia’s rulers lack legitimacy because they did not come to power as a result of democratic elections. “In a country that has disputed elections many people agree that the government gives privileges and other rewards to those who helped them come to power,” Stepan Safarian, a leading ACNIS analyst, told journalists, presenting the survey results.
More than a third of those polled said they were offered bribes in return for voting for particular candidates in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Most claimed to have refused to accept the illegal payments.
Votes bribes are one the most frequent forms of Armenia’s chronic electoral fraud which marred the 2003 elections criticized as undemocratic by international observers.
The poll also suggests that nearly half of Armenians bribe government officials at least once a year. The bulk of those who admitted doing so said their kickbacks were meant to ensure fair and lawful treatment by government bodies. Health care institutions, the judiciary and the military were singled out by most respondents as the most corrupt structures in Armenia.