The impending reductions in the prices of electricity and natural gas in Armenia are aimed at improving the ruling Republican Party’s chances of winning the April 2017 parliamentary elections, opposition leaders said on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Karen Karapetian called for such price cuts shortly after he took office two months ago. Armenia’s Russian-owned gas distribution network, which has been managed by Karapetian in the past, last week formally asked utility regulators to lower its retail tariffs by more than 5 percent. The Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) subsequently indicated its intention to reduce the electricity price as well.
These developments came less than a month after the retail prices of petrol unexpected fell by at least 5 percent. Gasoline imports to Armenia have long been controlled by a handful of companies belonging to government-linked individuals.
“They can call it the Republican Party’s New Year gift to Armenia’s citizens,” said Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). “They can name the gas and electricity price reductions after the Republican Party. For me, the main thing is to see Armenia’s citizens benefit from that.”
“Is that election-related? It definitely is, because it was always possible for them to lower the gas and energy tariffs. Why are they doing it now?” Zohrabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Parliamentary leaders of another major opposition party, the Armenian National Congress (HAK), also attributed the price cuts to the upcoming elections, which will determine who will govern Armenia after President Serzh Sarkisian completes his final term in 2018.
“We’ve been demanding that for years,” said Aram Manukian, an HAK lawmaker. “Have they just opened their ears?”
“Four months before the elections, they suddenly realized that the people and opposition forces have been complaining [about high energy tariffs] for years,” he said.
But Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK spokesman, denied that the tariff cuts are politically motivated. He said that the ruling party would have been the election favorite even without these measures.