Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), has demanded that the Armenian government step down, accusing it of mishandling the coronavirus crisis and its socioeconomic consequences.
Pashinian swiftly hit back hard at Tsarukian after he criticized the government in unusually strong terms at a meeting with senior BHK members held on Friday.
“I said last year that with this composition and structure [of the government] it’s impossible to live up to the [people’s] expectations and that if they want to live up to them they must replace 97 percent of [government members,]” said Tsarukian. “Seeing all these failings now, I can say for certain that not 97 percent but 100 percent of them must be replaced because all spheres have been mismanaged.”
“We are losing the country,” he declared in a speech aired by a TV channel controlled by him. “Every day, every hour passes to the detriment of our country and our people.”
Tsarukian, whose party has the second largest group in the Armenian parliament, accused Pashinian of failing to deliver on his pledges to carry out an “economic revolution” that would significantly improve living standards. The BHK leader claimed that Pashinian’s cabinet consists of mostly inexperienced and incompetent people.
He also slammed the government for failing to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus in the country. “In all other countries the pandemic has subsided, whereas in Armenia [the daily number of new coronavirus cases] reaches 400, 500, 600 and 700 day by day,” he said. “This is the result of fruitless and inefficient work for which people must he held answerable.”
Tsarukian went on to call on “healthy” political groups and individuals “concerned about country’s future” to join forces and discuss with him “ways out of the existing situation.” He did not name any potential allies, saying only that he will not cooperate with politicians “unacceptable to the people.”
Pashinian was quick to react to Tsarukian’s speech through his spokeswoman, Mane Gevorgian.
“I think that Mr. Tsarukian is simply concerned about the course of a number of criminal cases relating to money laundering, vote buying, tax evasion and corruption,” Gevorgian wrote on Facebook. “If Mr. Tsarukian thinks that his political statements will derail the investigations then it’s a wrong calculation because in Armenia everyone is equal before the law.”
The official suggested that Tsarukian, who is one of the country’s richest men, is also worried about the recent entry into force of a law allowing authorities to confiscate private properties and other assets deemed to have been acquired illegally.
Tsarukian’s spokeswoman, Iveta Tonoyan, responded by saying that the authorities are thus threatening to prosecute the leader of the largest parliamentary opposition force on “fabricated grounds.”
“Gagik Tsarukian stands by every point of his speech and calls on the authorities to put an end to the political blackmail,” said Tonoyan.
The top manager of dozens of companies belonging to Tsarukian, Sedrak Arustamian, was arrested in late April on bribery and money laundering charges denied by him. Arustamian was earlier indicted in two other criminal investigations.
The BHK had joined Pashinian’s first cabinet formed in May 2018 in the wake of the “Velvet Revolution.” Pashinian fired his ministers affiliated with BHK in October 2018, accusing Tsarukian’s party of secretly collaborating with the country’s former leadership.
The BHK finished second in the December 2018 parliamentary elections and won 26 seats in Armenia’s 132-member parliament.