In the first of a two-part interview with the “1in.am” eletronic news agency, RSC Director Richard Giragosian offered an assessment of recent developments in Armenian domestic politics, including several key local elections and the appointment of a new cabinet led by recently installed Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan. The interview, conducted on 11 October by Aram Sargsyan, was in English but dubbed into Armenian. The second part of the interview, to be aired later, focused on regional developments and Armenian foreign policy issues.
In this interview, Giragosian noted that “Armenia is obviously in a transition period,” with a significant period of preparation for the country’s transition to a parliamentary system of government. Within that context of political transition, the return of Karen Karapetyan to Armenian politics was seen as a “lose-lose” situation, whereby if he fulfills his promises to “implement serious reforms and serious measures to combat corruption,” he will mobilize a number of “enemies among the oligarchic elite. This means that without political support or assistance, it will be very difficult for the prime minister to fight against the oligarchs. And in the other scenario, he will equally lose if he fails to fight against the oligarchy or does not fulfill his promises.”
For Giragosian, the situation was reminiscent of former Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, who was initially brought in as a “non-partisan technocrat from the central bank and who raised expectations by saying all the right things and making many promises but was unable or unwilling to meet these words with any practical action.”
Regarding the new prime minister, Giragosian added that he was “skeptical, as is 99 percent of Armenia’s population. The challenge is to restore public confidence in government, and there has not been any real step to reassure or convince us, and we have not seen concrete evidence. But still, only a short time has passed and the real test is yet to come, for example, in the area of tax collection, and we hope that this will be a turning point or a new beginning in the fight against corruption.”
Adding to his skepticism, Giragosian noted that “until now, there have been changes of personalities, but no real change in policy. In any case, Armenia’s real problems are systemic, which means that the solution is to change the system, whereas a change of personalities is no longer sufficient. From this perspective, time is running out.”
Responding to the question of “how can we implement these structural changes,” he explained that “the short answer is: free and fair elections in April next year, but that, unfortunately, seems unlikely, or even very unlikely.” But there was some some optimism from the recent local elections, which he argued “revealed not only new, but also successful opposition forces. We also saw that the ruling party and the majority of the political elite were rather disappointed with the results of the elections. People are tired of this situation, and it is now very dangerous for any incumbent government to ignore public demands for change. From this perspective, this (round of local elections) was a very good indicator for next April, which means that the forthcoming parliamentary elections will be more difficult for the government to interfere in the electoral process. Armenia’s citizens deserve a better life, and demand more choice and more voice. Besides, the stakes are raised. If the April elections will also be a lost opportunity if they are not free and fair, then we will see a new wave of serious public discontent and unrest.”
He also said that “these (local) elections differed from previous contests in that both the ‘Bright Armenia’ and ‘Civil Contract’ parties offered a new political discourse, offering an alternative rooted in a new political reality.”
And in response to a question over the appointment a civilian, Vigen Sargsyan, as the new Minister of defense, Giragosian replied that although “this is a new model for Armenia, it is not new to other countries. This Western model of governance of the security sector, where the Minister is not a military officer, but someone who is taking steps towards democratization and reform of the Ministry of Defense…..I think this is a good step. Personally, this is a good challenge for Vigen Sargsyan. This is the brightest of all of the ministries, marking success after a long period of reform. However, after the April fighting, it is now extremely important that defense reforms will only continue and deepen.”