“Armenia is on the verge of big changes.” This is how the local media describe what is happening in the country now. It is noteworthy that both opposition and pro-governmental media anticipate changes.
Endemic problems were revealed in Armenia after Sasna Tsrer armed group seized a police compound in Yerevan earlier in July sparking public protests. It is noteworthy that the relatively small number of the protesters does not reflect the entire complexity and tenseness of the situation. The economic situation is critical. The authorities have clearly felt that the boiling pot of the people’s discontent may erupt all over the country at any moment.
It is no secret that Karen Karapetyan, a technocrat, one of the top managers of Gazprom, has come, or more precisely, was brought to power to stop the tidal wave of discontent in Armenia. This was the reason behind formation of the “government of national accord” that was announced earlier by President Serzh Sargsyan. In an interview with VAN Radio, political strategist Karen Kocharyan said: “Either there will be a revolution at the highest level, or the revolution will come from the grassroots.”
The authorities understand that what is happening in the country is not just economic and political problems. The future of the power pyramid created by the Republican Party of Armenia for the last decade has been endangered. According to local media, President Sargsyan will head the campaign headquarters of the Republican Party at the upcoming parliamentary elections, which means that the situation is serious and the authorities try to manage it.
At the same time, many wonder these days if the government reshuffle is a PR-step by the authorities or it is a beginning of real changes.
To look into the issue, one should take into account that the new prime minister is a successful and wealthy person. As mayor of Yerevan, he gained a reputation of a hardline and effective manager.
It is noteworthy that the citizens of Yerevan remember Karapetyan as the person who started preventing various corrupt practices in the municipality. Some of his opponents say Karapetyan is “the Kremlin’s envoy.” However, this is an advantage rather than disadvantage considering Karapetyan’s career path.
Let us see what is happening in Armenia now after Karpetyan was appointed as prime minister. According to the information that is permanently leaked to the press, Karapetyan’s major condition was a full-scale staff purge and relative freedom in the appointment of new ministers. In a blitz interview with the Armenian mass media on the first day of appointment, Karen Karapetyan said the government staff will be changed by 90% and the major criteria for the new appointments will be “professional skills” not the political views of the candidates.
Actually, President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan has made the first appointments that have inherently confirmed the forecasts of drastic Cabinet reshuffle.
New Minister of Finance is Vardan Aramyan, Minister of Transport and Communications is Vahan Martirosyan, Minister of Agriculture is Ignatiy Arakelyan, and Minister of Energy and Natural Resources is Ashot Manukyan. Once untouchable Gagik Beglaryan and Gagik Khachatryan have left the government.
To be fair, not all the ministers and officials of Hovik Abrahamyan’s Cabinet will leave the government. For instance, Vache Gabrielyan has retained his position of deputy prime minister – minister of international integration and reforms. David Haroutiunyan will remain on the position of the minister - head of the government administration too.
Active talks are still underway at the government between the team of “reformers” and the so-called “elders” for other key positions in the government. Resignation of Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, Health Minister Armen Muradyan, and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan is nearly closed issue. One of the most probable candidates for the post of the defense minister is Police Head Vladimir Gasparyan. Yet, there can be no precise forecasts as long as the talks for the Cabinet continue.
The situation is uneasy for the new prime minister, as besides the resistance of the oligarchic hierarchy controlling the key sectors of economy, he is on the brink of a conflict with the political parties in the coalition with the ruling Republican Party. In particular, ARFD (Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun) received ministerial portfolios after making a coalition agreement with the RPA and the replacement of the ministers violates that agreement. Such state of affairs runs contrary to the new prime minister’s policy.
According to Haykakan Zhamanak, a local newspaper, Karapetyan seeks to replace Economy Minister Artsvik Minasyan (ARFD), as he is not confident in Minasyan’s competency. The prime minister reprimanded the economy minister for inaccurate economic data on the first day of his appointment. This sparked discontent of ARFD. Head of ARFD faction in the parliament Armen Rustamyan called the dust-up between the prime minister and his party fellow a “show,” openly hinting that the coalition agreements are being violated. A split of the coalition will shake the ruling party’s positions ahead of the elections.
The factor of the ex-prime minister Hovik Abrahamyan should not be neglected either. Abrahamyan is keen to preserve his men in power, which restricts the freedom of the new prime minister and president Serzh Sargsyan. With the old staff he cannot reform the government, and with the old government he cannot level up the country.
Hence, it becomes evident that new Prime Minister of Armenia Karen Karapetyan is set to rehabilitate economy, restore the confidence in the authorities and break and root out the established corruption and cronyism in the government. Otherwise, all this will turn into one more PR-campaign and farce that will have unpredictable consequences in the post-election period, which is not far off.
Arman Abovyan (Yerevan) for EADaily