The lingering uncertainty over who will govern Armenia after President Serzh Sarkisian completes his final term in April is adversely affecting the country’s economy, Prime Minister Karen Karapetian said in an interview published on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately that is the case,” he told the “168 Zham” newspaper. “We have to acknowledge that and … ensure that there are not many [business-related] expectations based on those [political] factors. But the approach that ‘let’s wait for Monday and see what happens’ is definitely having a certain impact on the economy.”
Karapetian referred to unnamed entrepreneurs who he said are delaying their planned investments until after April 9, the final day of Sarkisian’s decade-long presidency.
The president, who holds a tight grip on the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), has still not clarified what he is planning to do afterwards. Sarkisian said on December 15 that “the time has not yet come” for him to announce whether he will become prime minister or take up another state post.
The HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, again made clear on Wednesday that Sarkisian will remain the party’s top leader in any case. He said that nobody else can do a better job of dealing with security and foreign challenges facing Armenia. Several other senior HHK figures have openly stated in recent weeks that Sarkisian should stay in power as prime minister.
Also in April, Armenia will switch to a parliamentary system of government, meaning that most of the sweeping powers currently enjoyed by the head of state will be given to the prime minister. Karapetian has repeatedly indicated his desire to retain his post.
Speaking to “168 Zham,” the premier again said that the HHK leadership will decide in April “who will occupy what post.” “Of course, individuals always play a [major] role,” he said. “But the more the role of individuals is minimized … the more predictable and promising that [government] system becomes.”
Joined by key members of his team such as Finance Minister Vartan Aramian and Economic Development Minister Suren Karayan, Karapetian spent most of the extensive interview defending his more than yearlong track record. In particular, he argued that economic growth in Armenia is on track to beat a 4.3 percent target that was set by his cabinet for 2017. He also claimed to have significantly improved tax and customs administration.
“We are committed to creating the kind of a business environment in Armenia that will make it easy to do business … so that our businessmen feel safe and secure, so that our domestic investors get buoyed and bring in many other investors,” he said.
Opposition politicians and other critics say that Karapetian’s government has not eased socioeconomic hardship so far. They have also strongly criticized its decision not to raise public sector salaries, pensions and poverty benefits despite a sizable rise in public spending envisaged by the 2018 state budget.
Most of that spending increase will be channeled into infrastructure projects. Government officials say this, coupled with continued economic growth, is a better way to boost living standards in the country.
“I think that by 2019 many more people will feel that we have moved and are moving the economy in the right direction,” said Karapetian.
The 54-year-old former business executive vowed to speed up economic growth through major reforms and a fight against corruption when Sarkisian named him prime minister in September 2016. The ruling HHK’s governing board gave a largely positive assessment of his track record a year later.