Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), on Friday again criticized the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and other policies but stopped short of demanding its resignation.
Tsarukian described as “fruitless” government efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus as he addressed hundreds of supporters in Armenia’s central Kotayk province.
“In terms of the number of deaths, hospitalizations and infections, we are the leaders in the region,” he said in a speech.
Tsarukian pointed to the officially registered deaths of 1,135 Armenians infected with COVID-19. “People get sick and they don’t get proper treatment,” he claimed.
The BHK leader, who is also one of the country’s wealthiest businesspeople, dismissed as insufficient the government’s wide-ranging stimulus measures against the socioeconomic fallout from the pandemic. He also blasted its broader economic policies, saying that they are not alleviating the plight of most Armenians.
Tsarukian went on to accuse Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s administration of undermining Armenian traditional values with what he described as plans to replace the teaching of the Armenian Apostolic Church history in schools with sex education classes. He said the BHK will hold a “big rally” soon in a bid to scuttle those plans.
“Let them think that we are backward. The people of Armenia will not allow sex classes for kids,” added the 63-year-old tycoon leading the country’s largest parliamentary opposition force.
Tsarukian had attacked Pashinian government and demanded its resignation at a June 5 meeting with senior BHK members. The move prompted angry reactions from the prime minister and his political allies.
Ten days later, Tsarukian was stripped of its parliamentary immunity from prosecution and indicted on vote buying charges rejected by him as politically motivated. He claims that Pashinian ordered the criminal proceedings in response to his speech.
Tsarukian did not call for the resignation of Pashinian or any other senior government official on Friday. He announced instead that he will hold a series of meetings with BHK activists and supporters across the country ahead of the upcoming autumn session of the Armenian parliament. He indicated that he will discuss with them his party’s next legislative initiatives.
Alen Simonian, a senior member of the ruling My Step bloc, dismissed the criticism voiced by Tsarukian, saying that Pashinian’s political team is not afraid of opposition rallies and other challenges. “I can’t wait to hear criticism from Tsarukian in the parliament,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Simonian claimed that Tsarukian as well as former Presidents Serzh Sarkisian and Robert Kocharian and their former or current associates attack the current government in hopes of avoiding imprisonment on various criminal charges leveled against them.
“They all think that it will help them get away with stealing money from the state, beating up or kidnapping people, privatizing strategic facilities, handing out vote bribes and other things,” he said. “I believe they are wrong.”