The opposition Yelk alliance has called on Armenians to take to the streets on January 19 and protest against the latest increases in the prices of fuel and some foodstuffs.
The prices of petrol and liquefied natural gas, which powers most vehicles in Armenia, rose by roughly 5 percent on January 2 following the entry into force of a new Armenian Tax Code mandating higher excise duties on fuel, tobacco and alcohol. Recent months’ increase in the international oil prices may have also been a factor.
Also, Armenia tax authorities also began collecting this month higher customs duties from around 40 types of imported products, including cooking oil, butter and poultry. This stems from Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which sets higher uniform tax rates for most goods and commodities imported from third countries.
Yelk blamed the Armenian government for the price hikes when it announced the upcoming demonstration in Yerevan late on Monday. In a statement, it urged supporters to join Yelk leaders in marching through the city center in protest.
“It’s a vital issue that directly impacts the welfare of all citizens,” Ararat Mirzoyan, a parliament deputy from Yelk, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday.
“The rally must demonstrate that it’s not just the opinion of nine parliament deputies [representing Yelk] … I hope it will demonstrate that the issue preoccupies many people,” he said.
Mirzoyan claimed that the cost of living in the country has been rising because “for many years Armenia’s citizens have been tolerating the Republican Party (HHK) rule.” The HHK-led government’s economic policies have been a gross failure “in all areas,” he said.
Senior government officials said last month that economic growth in Armenia is on track to accelerate to at least 6 percent in 2017 from just 0.2 percent in 2016.
Despite continued growth projected for this year, the government decided not to raise public sector salaries and pensions in 2018. Instead, it is planning a sizable rise in public spending on infrastructure projects. Officials say this is a better way to further stimulate economic activity and thus reduce poverty.
Yelk, which holds 9 seats in Armenia’s 105-member parliament, has condemned the caps on social spending.