Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian publicly criticized the Armenian government’s economic policies and hinted at his readiness to cooperate with the opposition as he launched his parliamentary election campaign over the weekend.
In a speech at a BHK convention that will fuel more talk of his disagreements with President Serzh Sarkisian, Tsarukian called for a “drastic change” in the socioeconomic situation in Armenia and said it cannot be achieved with “old methods.”
“Today we should ask ourselves a question,” he told thousands of loyalists taking part in the pre-election congress which Sarkisian attended as a guest. “How is it that our compatriots working outside Armenia achieve big success, get jobs and create jobs in foreign countries but can’t do the same in their own country? The answer is obvious: the absence of an appropriate environment.”
“The working man must not be needy, and if we can’t solve the problem of jobs and employment then we will have to permanently grapple with poverty … Has this fundamental, extremely serious problem been addressed in our country? I don’t think so,” he said.
Tsarukian, whose party is a key junior partner in Armenia’s governing coalition, specifically criticized the Sarkisian administration’s response to the 2008-2009 global recession, saying that it has failed to support small and medium-sized businesses in earnest.
“The fact is that small and medium-sized businesses in our country have remained literally neglected. A considerable part of them have shut down and left the country,” the tycoon-turned-politician declared before taking back his seat next to Sarkisian at Yerevan’s largest conference hall.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who joined the BHK only last month, was even more critical of the government’s socioeconomic record in his ensuing speech at what was apparently the largest party conference ever held in Armenia. Oskanian blamed the authorities for the continuing out-migration of people from the country.
“They are leaving because they have lost hope and faith in the country’s future,” he said.
“They are leaving because of injustices. They are leaving because they have no trust.”
“In contrast to the policy targets of today’s government, Prosperous Armenia will make economic growth, job creation and raising each citizen’s standard of living the main targets of its economic policy,” added Oskanian.
The ex-minister, who was a key member of former President Robert Kochairan’s administration in 1998-2008, also stated that the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh must no longer be used as an excuse for not democratizing Armenia’s political system. “Because we have the Karabakh conflict, [we have] even more reason to reinforce democracy, put in place a political system based on checks and balances and create a free, fair, competitive and appealing economy,” he said.
In what might have been a warning to Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Tsarukian likewise stressed the need for the May 6 parliamentary elections to be free and fair. “I state with utmost responsibility that we will do everything to protect the voter’s vote and the voter’s right and that we consider all those political forces who are ready to fight with us for free and fair elections to be our allies and partners,” he said.
Some opposition forces, notably the Armenian National Congress (HAK), have already expressed readiness to work together with the BHK in trying to ensure the proper conduct of the elections. HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian has personally made statements to that effect in recent months amid signs of mounting tensions between Tsarukian’s party and the presidential HHK.
Gurgen Arsenian, another wealthy businessman whose United Labor Party is allied to the much bigger BHK, commented vaguely on the possibility of cooperation with the opposition. But he did insist that Tsarukian’s political team will fight hard to prevent possible vote rigging. He agreed that the authorities’ handling of the vote could heighten political tension in the country.
“We want normal, civilized elections,” Arsenian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on the sidelines of the BHK congress. “But if somebody tries to turn those elections into a boxing match, we will be prepared for that as well.”