A new economic manifesto unveiled by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) has prompted an unexpectedly positive reaction from Armenia’s leadership, with Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian saying that it has many similarities with his government’s reform agenda.
The 15-page program published late last month was developed by a team of economists led by former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian. It lists 100 policy measures which the HAK believes would end the monopolization of key sectors of the Armenian economy, improve the country’s business environment and ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth among its citizens.
The opposition bloc led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian specifically wants to shift the main tax burden from small and medium-sized enterprises to a handful of government-linked “oligarchs” whom it accuses of “strangling free enterprise” in the country.
This would be done through the introduction of a progressive income tax scale as well as sharp increases in other taxes paid by the wealthiest Armenians. The program also calls for a substantial toughening of Armenia’s anti-trust legislation and a strict separation of business and politics.
Speaking to RFE/RL this week, Prime Minister Sarkisian welcomed the release of the what is one of the most detailed economic plan of actions ever drawn up by an Armenian political group. “I find very important the fact that the opposition has come up with a program and is urging the public to participate in discussions on that program,” he said.
Sarkisian noted that the HAK manifesto and his government’s economic program have “numerous common points.” But the opposition document also has provisions “unacceptable” to the Armenian government, he said without elaborating.
Sarkisian has repeatedly pledged to undertake sweeping economic reforms since taking office almost two years ago. Addressing the Armenian parliament in November, he stressed the need to markedly improve Armenia’s business environment, crack down on tax evasion by the rich and strengthen the broader rule of law.
The HAK has dismissed these promises, saying that the existing economic system is vital for the political survival of the current Armenian leadership. In an interview with RFE/RL, Bagratian insisted that the government’s economic policies have nothing in common with the HAK manifesto.
The ex-premier pointed to a controversial tax bill introduced by the government recently. “The whole tax package did not contain a single point coinciding with the tax changes proposed by us,” he said. “And naturally, they won’t touch big business.”
Sarkisian’s positive reaction to the document was echoed by senior lawmakers representing the country’s two main governing parties. “It would be unserious to say that the opposition is incapable of proposing anything rational,” said Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (HHK). “Any rational proposal, any rational idea that can contribute to the country’s strengthening and prosperity should be accepted.”
Gagik Melikian, a parliament deputy from the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), called the HAK initiative unprecedented. “That will certainly produce good results,” he said.
But Galust Sahakian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, was more dismissive of it. “We have our program and will be guided by it,” he told RFE/RL.
The content of the HAK program was also praised by Aristomene Varoudakis, the World Bank’s resident representative to Armenia. “As always, there are a lot of good proposals,” Varoudakis said last week. “Perhaps not one hundred good proposals but a significant number of them.”
But he was quick to add: “To implement your program, you have to be in the government.”