Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian has made a case for expanding Armenia’s fledgling middle class, saying that is a necessary condition for democratizing the country.
In his words, the Armenian government should fight against “oligopolies” controlling big chunks of the national economy and create a fair investment climate for that purpose.
Sarkisian underlined this in a speech that he delivered late Tuesday at a seminar organized in Yerevan by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and the European People’s Party. “It is not possible to form a civil society without the middle class,” he told journalists afterwards.
“Together with you we should form institutions that have to protect private property in the first instance, and that means protecting the interests of the middle class,” he said. “Because the poor and the rich do not need institutions that would protect their property as much as the middle class does.”
“The middle class thus becomes a reliable backbone of the civil society,” added the premier.
Sarkisian has pledged to implement political and economic reforms throughout his three-year tenure. Speaking at the European Parliament in Brussels last month, he said the Armenian government intends to speed up such reforms.
Government critics dismiss the prime minister’s reform discourse, saying that it has still not been backed up by concrete action.
Hrant Bagratian, a former prime minister affiliated with the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), on Wednesday brushed aside Sarkisian’s latest statements. He claimed that the government’s economic policies have mainly favored a handful of wealthy entrepreneurs.
“The country has gradually become a bourgeois state catering for 10-15 persons,” Bagratian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Show me a representative of the 500,000-strong peasantry in the parliament. There isn’t any.”
Bagratian also deplored what he called a lack of government support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). He said only a tiny proportion of external assistance received by Yerevan in recent years has been channeled into SMEs.