On August 17, Armenia’s new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan marked his first 100 days in office with a huge rally in Yerevan.
By most measures, the most significant success of the new government has been its fight against corruption. On May 10, just two days after being elected as Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan appointed a new Police Chief and a new director of the National Security Service of Armenia, and announced that they must urgently eradicate corruption in Armenia.
“The citizens of Armenia must feel the results of the ongoing fight against corruption every day”, the Prime Minister stated. Since this pronouncement, law-enforcement bodies of Armenia have been carrying out investigations into diverse instances of corruption, and a few high-ranking officials have been charged and detained, including the deputy of the National Assembly Manvel Grigoryan.
One of the electronic media outlets in Armenia, Ampop.am, has analyzed the results of Pashinyan’s government fight against corruption over the last three months. The official reports on the misuse of official positions, waste, fraud, and abuse of state funds, as well as the damage to the state were reviewed. They concluded that the damage inflicted on the state amounted to 27 billion AMD (approximately $55 million), and the extent of the recovered funds amounts to 10.2 billion AMD (approximately $21 million).
Illicit enrichment cases have also been revealed. It is noteworthy, that although the Armenian Parliament approved legislation on criminalizing illicit enrichment in 2016, no official had been charged with it thus far. However, after the Velvet Revolution, Vachagan Ghazaryan, former head of the security service of Armenia’s ex-President Serge Sarkisian, was arrested along with his wife. According to data provided by Armenia’s National Security Service, Vachagan Ghazaryan and his wife kept 860 million AMD and 690 million AMD, respectively, at different banks, which they didn’t include in the declaration of property and income submitted to the Ethics Committee of High-Ranking Officials.
Furthermore, former-President Sarkisian’s brother, Lyova Sarkisian, as well as Lyova’s daughter and son have also been charged by the Special Investigation Service for illicit enrichment and undeclared assets. During the search by detectives at their place of residence, deposit agreements of nearly $6.8 million were discovered and confiscated.
In the context of the fight against corruption, Armenia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Ararat Mirzoyan emphasized that the new Armenian government has applied to the World Bank leadership with a request to provide support for the return of embezzled public funds and other illegally obtained assets. According to him, this can be implemented through the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), founded by the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which can help to return the assets stolen from the country.
During the recent rally summing up the first 100 days of his tenure, PM Pashinyan underlined that it took him 40 minutes to eliminate the monopolies of sugar and banana.
Transparency International indicated that it plans to reflect the outcome of the huge anti-corruption campaign under the new government in its next annual report. Previously, in the 2017 Corruption perception index Armenia ranked 107th (with a score of 35) among 180 countries of the world. If the new government continues at this rate, Armenia will significantly improve its index score and make a major breakthrough in the next report.
In addition to the struggle against corruption, the fight against monopolies initiated by the new government is of vital importance as well. Before the revolution, Armenia was considered one of the most monopolized countries in the former USSR and Eastern Europe, and the monopoly on imports of certain products belonged to the people in the immediate circle of ex-president Serge Sarkisian. After becoming Prime Minister, Pashinyan announced that there should be no monopolies in Armenia and everyone will be able to import whatever they want. During the recent rally summing up the first 100 days of his tenure, PM Pashinyan underlined that it took him 40 minutes to eliminate the monopolies of sugar and banana. He also stated that Armenian economic activity increased 9.6 percent in June. “We have all the grounds to insist that the economic activity index in Armenia will continue to grow,” he assured.
The PM also noted that during the period between May 10 to August 14, there was an increase in tourists to Armenia (nearly 30,000). Within the last three months, more than 34,000 more foreign visitors visited the country when compared to the number of visitors during the same period of last year. “This means growth of tourism and a new investment climate,” indicated Pashinyan.
He also stated that real estate prices rose by 20 percent, bank deposits increased by 250 million AMD, loan portfolios increased by 99 billion AMD in the last three months, and 28.8 billion AMD was collected by tax authorities.
As for economic policy and investments, the new authorities haven’t yet achieved great success in this regard. Although they mentioned that there no longer exist artificial monopolies in Armenia and tax bodies will no longer suppress investors, who will thus be protected by the state, there are no serious investments in the economy so far. According to Babken Tunyan, one of the country’s most renowned economists, this is quite normal as it takes some time to have a steady change in economy. He believes investors are still uncertain and it would be unlikely to expect any investments before the upcoming parliamentary elections.
One of the key steps the government has taken is its commitment to uncover the 2008 post-electoral tragic events. Although 10 years have passed since the events of March 1, 2008 the previous authorities had not shown any interest in investigating or revealing the circumstances of the death of the 10 casualties.
Introducing newly appointed Head of Special Investigation Service (SIS) on June 12, PM Pashinyan underlined that the disclosure of the March 1 events should be a priority for the new SIS head. Afterwards, the SIS charged former president Robert Kocharian, former Defense Minister Mikayel Harutyunyan, and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Secretary General Yuri Khachaturov who served as the Chief of the Yerevan garrison at that time. They are charged with overthrowing the constitutional order.
In regards to foreign policy, no drastic turns will take place. However, Armenian and Russia experienced some “coldness” in mutual relations recently and the Kremlin seems to lack confidence in the new Armenian government. This became evident after the criminal cases filed against Kocharian and Khachaturov. Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, expressed concern over the developments in Armenia, saying that they contradict the new leadership’s statement that there will be no repressions against their political predecessors. Moreover, a number of Russian experts even declared that by charging Khachaturov, Armenia discredits the CSTO. Referring to Lavrov’s recent statement, Pashinyan said that there is a new situation in Armenia and everyone, including their Russian partners, should adapt to it.
As for the relations with the West, both the European Union and the United States have welcomed the commitment of new Armenian authorities to fight against corruption, and reiterated their support for the democracy-building agenda of Armenia.