President Serzh Sarkisian strongly defended his track record at the weekend, saying that living standards in Armenia have improved “substantially” during his rule.
Sarkisian also made clear that the recently appointed Prime Minister Karen Karapetian will retain his post if the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) wins parliamentary elections due in April. But he again declined to clarify what he himself will do after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018.
Sarkisian insisted that his administration is committed to holding “spotless” elections as he presided over an HHK congress in Yerevan that saw Karapetian elected to the party’s new governing board. “We need that kind of a vote of confidence,” he declared in an extensive speech.
“In case of [the HHK] winning a vote of confidence in the upcoming elections Karen Karapetian will again head our government to continue implementing the already planned program,” he said.
The April vote will take place one year before Armenia completes its transition to the parliamentary system of government. This means that the prime minister will technically be the country’s most powerful official after 2017.
It is not yet clear whether Sarkisian will seek to occupy that post after serving out his final term. His political allies have indicated only that he will remain HHK chairman.
The president on Saturday reaffirmed his support for Karapetian’s ambitious economic reform agenda and reiterated that Armenia will undergo “sweeping” changes in the coming years. He also claimed that despite widespread discontent with the economic situation, the country is better off now than it was in 2007.
The 9-year period repeatedly cited by him in his speech encompasses the final year of former President Robert Kocharian’s rule, during which Sarkisian served as prime minister.
“The welfare of the population has improved substantially,” said Sarkisian. “In the past we were satisfied with fewer things, while today we have greater needs. This is the essence of human beings: people stop noticing many existing things such as 24-hour electricity or water supplies, well-lit streets decorated with flowers and the like, but immediately notice the absence of others.”
The Armenian economy expanded at double-digit rates in the years leading up to Sarkisian’s presidency, which just began in April 2008 shortly before the onset of a global financial crisis that plunged Armenia into a severe recession. Economic growth in the country has been relatively slow since 2010, with the official poverty rate still remaining below pre-crisis levels.
Sarkisian downplayed the double-digit growth and a resulting drop in poverty under his predecessor, saying that it was mainly driven by soaring remittances from Armenians working in Russia and other countries. Remittance inflows totaled $1.63 billion last year, sharply down from $2.3 billion in 2008.
Sarkisian insisted that his administration has managed to diversify the domestic economy and make its growth more export-driven. “Whereas Armenia’s exports stood at $985 million in 2006, they reached $1.485 billion in 2015 and $1.3 billion in the first nine months of this year,” he told hundreds of HHK congress delegates, among them many central and local government officials and businesspeople.
Citing official statistics, the president also argued that average wage in Armenia has more than doubled and pensions have grown more than threefold since 2007.
Sarkisian’s political opponents are bound to dismiss his latest statements. They have for years accused his government of mismanagement, corruption and excessive external borrowing.
Kocharian has also increasingly criticized Sarkisian’s economic record in recent years. “It is evident that the authorities and the society’s assessments of the state of affairs in the country are diametrically opposite,” he said last year.
Karapetian described the current economic situation as “very grave” and pledged to embark on “systemic changes” to improve it when he took over as prime minister in September.