Armenia’s New Government Much Like The Old

Marianna Grigoryan

EurasiaNet, NY
June 12 2007

Armenia has a new government. Despite early hints from Prime Minister
Serzh Sarkisian that the cabinet’s composition would diversify,
the makeup looks set to reinforce the ruling Republican Party of
Armenia’s political weight.

The news came as no surprise: ministerial portfolios were distributed
among the three political parties with the most seats in Armenia’s
recently convened parliament, with the Republican Party, which won
nearly one-third of the May 12 vote, holding 11 of the 17 posts.

The Prosperous Armenia Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation
(ARF), which trailed the Republicans to a second and third-place
finish, received three posts each. Prosperous Armenia will hold the
portfolios for health, urban development and sports, while the ARF
will oversee education, agriculture and labor and social affairs.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders denounced the Constitutional Court’s
decision June 10 not to hear an appeal brought by four parties seeking
the annulment of parliamentary election results. [For background see
the Eurasia Insight archive]. Two opposition parties, Country of Law
and Heritage, have not yet clarified whether or not they will take
their seats in the new parliament, which convened on June 7.

Prime Minister Sarkisian described the new government, appointed by
President Robert Kocharian on June 8, as combining "experience with
the aspirations and desires of new people."

"In the areas where we have achieved success, where it is seen that
there is still energy, the area’s heads will stay," Sarkisian said
at the June 11 presentation of the government. "And in the agencies
where the need for change is obvious, there will be changes."

New ministers, however, were appointed in only six out of 17
ministries, including health, urban development, sports and youth
affairs, trade and economic development, justice, and environment.

Minister of Local Government Hovik Abrahamian, who is known as a
close associate of President Robert Kocharian, was appointed deputy
prime minister.

Sarkisian earlier suggested that the new government would contain
"significant" changes, telling reporters on June 4 that "[t]here
would be some things that perhaps have never existed in our political
culture." Those comments prompted some local media outlets to speculate
that opposition parties might be invited to join the government in
an effort to muzzle their criticism of government policies.

Some analysts refused to buy into the notion of opposition leaders
taking over cabinet portfolios. "The talk that certain opposition
members would get positions was absurd from the outset," scoffed
political analyst Suren Sureniants, a member of the political council
of the opposition Republic Party. "Horses are not changed during
a race."

Sureniants, and other local observers, contend that the 2007
parliamentary elections were a de facto first round for next year’s
presidential election, a race in which Prime Minister Sarkisian has
announced his intention to take part. "Now he will try to consolidate
the system, for which the status quo was preserved in order to ensure
his victory," said Sureniants, referring to Sarkisian. "Only if it
happens, will it become clear whether Serzh [Sarkisian] is capable
of making reforms or not."

One of the few cabinet changes that attracted attention was the
replacement of former Environment Minister Vardan Ayvazian, who
has been embroiled in several scandals related to corruption and
the awarding of mining licenses to relatives. Though losing his
ministerial post, Ayvazian was appointed chairman of parliament’s
Committee on Standing Economic Affairs.

Perhaps with an eye to next year’s presidential vote, both Sarkisian
and fellow pro-government political leaders stress that the new
government will prove sensitive to popular demands. "I think we should
all periodically move on to another area of work in order for those
following us to bring new ideas, and for vigor not to decrease,"
Sarkisian said.

Editor’s Note: Marianna Grigoryan is a reporter for the online daily
ArmeniaNow in Yerevan.

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