In remarks that will fuel more speculation about his desire to return to power, former President Robert Kocharian on Tuesday criticized economic policies pursued by Armenia’s current government.
In an interview with the Mediamax news agency, Kocharian specifically attacked the government’s response to the global financial crisis that has hit the country hard. He effectively accused the authorities of squandering an “ideal macroeconomic situation” which he said they had inherited from his administration.
“True, economic crises take place from time to time,” said Kocharian. “One should be mindful of and prepare for that during good years. But not by restraining economic development but by accumulating reserves, cutting the state debt and budget deficit, diversifying trade and so on. And that’s what we did.”
Kocharian argued that during his 1998-2008 rule the Armenian economy grew by over 10 percent per annum while the external debt and budget deficit steadily decreased as a share of Gross Domestic Product. He dismissed a widely held belief that the economy contracted sharply in 2009 because it had grown excessively dependent on a construction boom, a key driving force of the robust growth.
Kocharian claimed that there is still “huge” domestic demand for apartments and office space and that the government of President Serzh Sarkisian could have used it for mitigating the impact of the global recession. “We should consolidate efforts to maintain housing demand,” he told Mediamax. “There are many ways of doing that. I think the government now understands that.”
“It was extremely important to start that in advance, when the crisis was only beginning to move towards Armenia,” he added in a jibe at the government.
Representatives of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) declined to immediately comment on the extraordinary criticism, while a leading member of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) scoffed at it. “Not a single fact [cited by the ex-president] corresponds to reality,” former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Bagratian claimed that the Kocharian administration inflated economic growth rates and artificially stimulated the construction sector for “personal gain.” He said the construction boom benefited only the wealthiest Armenians and eventually turned out to be a bubble.
The HAK has remained Kocharian’s most bitter detractor even after he handed over power to Sarkisian in April 2008. Newspapers supporting the opposition alliance have since regularly speculated about his impending return to active politics. Some of them claimed recently that Kocharian has demanded that Sarkisian appoint him as prime minister.