An Armenian law on “individuals subject to special state protection” has until now guaranteed such privileged healthcare only for the president of the republic and his family. The NSS wants to extend the government-funded privilege to the two other officials.
The security agency circulated a relevant bill on Monday days after Pashinian’s government reportedly stopped paying for medical services provided to ordinary citizens by public and private hospitals. According to news reports, the Armenian Ministry of Health attributed the drastic measure to a lack of public funds resulting from an increased number of people seeking free surgeries and other essential treatment.
Opposition politicians and other government critics denounced the NSS bill, saying that it makes mockery of Pashinian’s past promises to establish social justice and equality in the country.
“Three years ago Nikol Pashinian was saying that there are three million prime ministers in Armenia,” said Anna Grigorian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Hayastan bloc. “But that is still not manifested in any way. The prime minister has extensive powers now, and you can see how just big his security detail is.”
Grigorian told RFE/RL’s Armenian on Tuesday that the extra privilege sought for him is all the more unethical now that Armenia is continuing to grapple with serious national security challenges after last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Hayk Mamijanian, another opposition lawmaker representing the opposition Pativ Unem bloc, speculated that the NSS bill may be aimed at deflecting public attention from those challenges. He said Pashinian and Simonian “must have the morality and the will to renounce that privilege” and redirect government funding required for it to low-income Armenians in urgent need of medical aid.
Yerevan residents randomly interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service echoed the opposition criticism.
“If ordinary people cannot be treated at the state’s expense why should they have such privileges?” said one woman. “Are they better than ordinary people?”
“This was done covertly in the past. Now they want to legalize that,” complained a man.
Hrachya Hakobian, a pro-government parliamentarian and Pashinian’s brother-in-law, defended the proposed measure which appears to enjoy government backing. Hakobian argued that Armenia’s presidents and their families have never been criticized for having personal doctors paid by the state. The prime minister and the parliament speaker must not be denied the same right, he said.