Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian welcomed on Thursday street protests in Yerevan against a sharp rise in public transport fares as a manifestation of an increasingly influential civil society that requires greater transparency in the work of Armenia’s government.
Sarkisian praised the mostly young activists campaigning against the unpopular measure even if he stopped short of explicitly backing their demands.
“We can see that this is a spontaneous movement of people that has no partisan nature … This movement has a social nature, it is for social solidarity and against poverty. Understandable motives are guiding the young people who are raising this issue,” he said, opening a weekly meeting of his cabinet.
“We can see that a strong civil society is taking shape in Armenia, and we must reckon with this reality when taking state decisions,” he told ministers.
Sarkisian went on to distance himself from the more than 50 percent surge in bus, minibus and trolleybus fares in the Armenian capital, saying that the “independent” municipal administration is solely responsible for it. “But we cannot fail to pay attention to the public mood that has been created by this decision and naturally relates to the executive branch,” he said. “We must keep this issue at the center of our attention.”
In Sarkisian’s words, the protests highlight the need for various government bodies to consult with non-governmental organizations and other civil society representatives before making decisions that directly affect the population. “This means that from now on in making important decisions we are obliged to ensure not only public discussions and hearings but also public debates,” he said.
The Yerevan municipality claims to have consulted with the public before raising the transport tariffs. Kamo Areyan, a deputy mayor present at the cabinet session, assured Sarkisian that Mayor Taron Markarian personally discussed the matter with “representatives of various public groups.”
The premier spoke as dozens of activists demonstrated outside his office, demanding not only a reversal of the fare hikes but also Markarian’s and Sarkisian’s resignation. Many protesters believe that the mayor could not have made the controversial decision without the central government’s consent.