The opposition Yelk alliance moved closer on Tuesday to forcing a parliament debate on its demands for repealing government-drafted legislation which it blames for recent increases in the prices of fuel and some foodstuffs in Armenia.
A bill put forward by Yelk calls for reversing higher excise duties on fuel, tobacco and alcohol as well as income taxes collected from Armenians earning well above the national average wage. The bill was formally backed by 29 members of the 105-seat National Assembly, meaning that it has to be debated on the parliament floor on February 16.
Yelk, which holds 9 parliament seats, secured more than 27 signatures needed for holding the emergency parliament session thanks to the backing of businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance, the second largest parliamentary force. The Tsarukian Bloc is also officially in opposition to the government.
Naira Zohrabian, a senior Tsarukian Bloc lawmaker, voiced support for the Yelk initiative. She cautioned that deputies from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) may scuttle the debate by preventing the legislature from making a quorum.
“They block any rational and positive initiative that doesn’t fit into their intra-clan rules of the game,” charged Zohrabian. “We will carry on with our tactic. Unfortunately, this is all the opposition can do.”
Yelk’s Edmon Marukian was careful not to predict an HHK boycott of the February 16 session. He said that the pro-government majority could make serious concessions as a result of “public pressure.”
Yelk held demonstrations in Yerevan in support of its demands on January 19 and February 5. The protests attracted only several hundred people.
Nevertheless, Marukian sought to put a brave face on the modest turnout. “Had it not been for those protests there would have been no emergency session of the parliament,” he claimed.
Meanwhile, the HHK-controlled majority was in no rush to pass judgment on the Yelk bill or say whether its lawmakers will turn up for the debate.The ruling party’s parliamentary leader, Vahram Baghdasarian, said only that it will discuss the opposition motion. “Their proposals have to be realistic, rather than populistic, and correspond to our resources,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
In that regard, Baghdasarian defended the Armenian government’s economic policies which are aimed, among other things, at increasing tax revenue. “If we want to ensure our progress, to be able to speak of raising salaries and pensions later on … we need to look at our [financial] means,” he said.
Prime Minister Karen Karapetian downplayed last month the socioeconomic impact of the increased prices of fuel and products such as meat, butter and potatoes, insisting that inflation in Armenia remains low. Karapetian also defended the higher income tax rates for high-earners.