Country Report Armenia November 1998 Main report

Political scene: Government is criticised over its policies

The government has faced heavy criticism from the opposition on a number of its policies, prompted to a large extent by next year's parliamentary election. The opposition parties are dissatisfied with the government's privatisation policy after the sale of the Yerevan Cognac Factory to Pernod Ricard (France) for $30m, which they thought was too low, and of the country's two major hotels. Yerkrapah deputies narrowly blocked the passage of an opposition motion to revoke the privatisation deals signed with foreign investors. Furthermore, the failure of the president, Robert Kocharian, to respond to a letter signed by 68 deputies demanding that he convene an emergency debate to discuss the sale of the cognac factory was seen as a breach of the constitution. The opposition applied to the constitutional court to demand a change in government, but this was rejected on the grounds that such a move is the prerogative of the president. In a further twist, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Albert Bazeian, resigned from parliament in protest at its handling of the debate on the sale of the factory, claiming that it was electioneering. He withdrew his resignation after Mr Kocharian and the defence minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, persuaded him to stay.

Similarly, demands by the opposition and by the Dashnaksutiun (Dashnaks), normally supporters of the president, that Mr Kocharian unequivocally condemn the government of his predecessor, Levon Ter-Petrosian, for corruption and economic mismanagement, which they claim has caused persistent economic hardship, have been construed as being geared to the forthcoming election.

The prime minister, Armen Darbinian, has also come under fire for having signed the declaration at the Baku conference on the TRACECA project in September. Point 3 of the declaration advocates that conflicts in the region should be resolved in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions and within the OSCE framework. Parliamentary deputies interpreted the prime minister's endorsement of this clause as a concession over Nagorny Karabakh, prompting criticism of him.

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