The opposition minority in the Armenian parliament condemned the government on Wednesday for reducing the number of its ministries from 17 to 12 and refusing to limit Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s powers.
Lawmakers representing the opposition Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Bright Armenia (LHK) parties rejected a government bill setting a new structure of Pashinian’s cabinet. But leaders of the pro-government majority in the National Assembly defended the bill, practically making its passage a forgone conclusion.
The bill calls for abolishing the post of first deputy prime minister, meaning that Pashinian would have only two deputies. Also, the Armenian ministries of education, culture, and sports and youth affairs would be turned into a single agency. A similar merger of the ministries of energy and local government would lead to the creation of a new Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures. The Diaspora Ministry is due to be scrapped altogether.
The bill also means that Armenia’s police, National Security Service (NSS) and State Revenue Committee (SRC) would remain subordinate to the prime minister, rather than his cabinet. They were directly controlled by Armenia’s presidents under the previous, presidential system of government.
Former President Serzh Sarkisian made sure that they will be accountable to the prime minister when turned Armenia into a parliamentary republic. Sarkisian planned to stay in power as prime minister after serving out his second presidential term in April 2018.
Pashinian, Edmon Marukian and other leaders of the now defunct Yelk opposition alliance accused him of introducing a “super prime-ministerial” system of government with the aim of maintaining a tight grip on power.
Pashinian has been reluctant to change that system since he swept to power in last spring’s “velvet revolution.”His government has objected to an LHK bill that would turn the police and the NSS into ministries and incorporate the SRC into the Finance Ministry.
Marukian, who leads the opposition LHK, denounced Pashinian’s adherence to the “super prime-ministerial” system which he likened to a “suit made for Serzh Sarkisian.” “Why have you put on Serzh Sarkisian’s suit?” he said during a parliament debate on the bill.
Lilit Makunts, the parliamentary leader of Pashinian’s My Step bloc, rejected the criticism, saying no government in the world would draft a bill limiting its own powers. Makunts also said My Step is ready to draft, together with the opposition factions, new legislation that would require the police and NSS chiefs to regularly answer questions from parliament deputies.
The BHK was more concerned about the planned downsizing of the government and the resulting layoffs of many civil servants. Justice Minister Artak Zeynalian said that “several hundred” government employees will only temporarily lose their jobs because they will be placed on a “reserve” list. “This is not unemployment,” claimed Zeynalian.
“I’m sure that you too don’t doubt that they will stay [on that list] forever,” countered the BHK’s Naira Zohrabian.
Pashinian has repeatedly pledged to downsize the government. He has said that it will operate more efficiently as a result.
Mikael Melkumian, another senior BHK lawmaker, dismissed those assurances. “This [new government] structure lacks elementary efficiency,” he said.