Asbarez: The New Government Must Embrace Criticism

Students at a school in Armenia

BY VICKEN SOSIKIAN

The parliament elected in late 2018 is now fully functioning and the government that subsequently was established is now up and running.

Starting from the very early days of the popular movement in April 2018, its leaders have announced their intention to be the government of the people. Nikol Pashinyan, Ararat Mirzoyan, Alen Simonyan, Arayik Harutunyan, Mkhitar Hayrapetyan and several more of their colleagues have repeatedly announced that they welcome and encourage criticisms of their plans, decisions, policies and work.

They have been successful in giving the public a sense of full representation in governance. Their words and charisma have turned thousands into staunch supporters and even blind followers.

However, actions speak louder than words, especially when they contradict one another.

Just a few days ago, after the government presented its operating plan, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation presented its view points and criticisms regarding the many areas it saw as concerning.

The Minister of Education and Science, Arayik Harutyunyan was quick to respond stating that the ministry, which was headed by ARF members for years is in shambles.

There are two major problems with Mr. Harutyunyan’s response.

The ministry he represents and all other ministries can certainly be in better shape. However, his assessment and inherent blame to the ARF is simply unfounded and false.

Here’s a partial list of accomplishments secured by the Ministry of Education while it was led by ARF members:

  • Teacher salaries went from about 15,000 to 90,000 drams.
  • The World Bank’s educational program was launched, directing all its resources to general education reforms and the launch of textbook preparation programs.
  • For the first time in Armenia, a Law on Education was established. In force until today, the law regulates the country’s education system.
  • Advanced learning campuses were created.
  • Chess was introduced as a part of the standard curriculum.
  • Cooperation with Diaspora educational institutions and institutions were initiated.
  • The ministry began preparing textbooks for the Diaspora.
  • A training program for Diaspora Armenian teachers was developed.
  • Small-scale school management and financing procedures were developed.
  • Armenian studies, national patriotic education, the history of the Armenian Church and studies of the Armenian Cause were enhanced in school programs.

Could more have been done? Yes. Does this sound like a system in shambles? No.

That said, the more serious problem with Mr. Harutyunyan’s response is the lack of willingness to hear feedback. This reaction is not exclusive to him, however. Virtually all of Prime Minister Pashinyan’s confidants behave the same way and have similar responses to criticism.

What happened to welcoming criticism and feedback? It seems that the attempt to divide the public is still a tactic utilized by members of the government and National Assembly leadership.

Through numerous announcements, the ARF has made clear that it is an extra-parliamentary oppositional force (in Armenia all those not in the government are automatically considered opposition), which will be critical of the government (very normal with all opposition forces – think Democrats and Republicans).

However, the ARF has also made clear that the party is willing to cooperate with the government on issues that it shares ideological agreement on. Furthermore, the ARF has also explained that all its criticisms will be in constructive formats and not intended to discredit or hinder the work of the government. It has already shown this in action by establishing eleven committees manned by more than 150 ARF members who study the government’s plans and decisions, proposing alternatives where it disagrees with decisions, plans or policies.

In light of this, such politically immature responses to criticism, especially when repeated time and time again by various country leaders, become a reflection of the new government’s way of thinking and operating.

The country’s parliament is run by one party (Pashinyan’s My Step) that holds majority voting power. When any group holds such a large share of the power, the people are inherently robbed of representation that unites differing viewpoints.

Furthermore, when the holders of such power openly begin dismissing opinions that are contrary to their own, the situation ripens for all sorts of damaging repercussions – a possible reality that the ARF has raised a red flag about.

I am hopeful that the government’s representatives will break away from their rigid and divisive perspectives and embrace constructive criticism provided by de-facto oppositionists, especially when presented with tangible and adoptable alternatives from a party that has stood by its people since its founding.

On with nation building.

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