BY RAZMIG SHIRINIAN
A significant political transformation in Armenia was the election of the new parliament early in April. Whether the new parliament will be able to recreate itself as an effective political institution largely depends on how it addresses the mounting instability in the economic lives of the people. This is a political moment in Armenia that seems to present new opportunities for similar transformation in the economic area (health care, jobs, loans, insurance, financial security, etc.). People will be directly affected by laws that touch their business innovations, their jobs, and their income. This is also a moment to introduce laws that will enable the enterprising individuals, both in Armenia and the Diaspora, to disrupt, or even diminish altogether the wealth and economic monopoly of the established elites and open up the path for economic development.
The challenge in this moment is to expand into new dimensions of public policy that will make a difference in the daily lives of ordinary people. These dimensions are inherently economic as well as socio-political, and the policy choices that the new parliament is expected to make will primarily address public needs and clarify the institutions through which the function and the implementation of these policies will take place.
In this post-election era the demand is a clarification of the role and the actors who are involved in making public policy choices as well as clarify the linkages among all the implementation stages. An effective parliament will point at all the responsibilities in the process of public policy as well as explain policy outcomes. So, it is important to look at policy-making and policy implementation stages in Armenia and clarify the tasks undertaken in each stage.
We have long identified and defined the problems, such as inefficiency, low implementation, or oligarchic monopoly. At this moment, it sounds logical for a developing country like Armenia to proceed through a series of steps beginning with clear policy choices, legislation and legitimation, implementation and evaluation. We recognize that the smooth functioning of this process is difficult in Armenia considering the absence of institutional experience and the existence of conflicts and personalized interruptions at each stage. Thus, the effectiveness of the new parliament will largely depend on how it overcomes the existing institutional as well as procedural conflicts.
For example, to renovate collapsing houses, or to improve the conditions of gas, water, and sewerage systems, the local or lower level officials may transform the policy based on their funding needs and interests. Individuals and institutions that are involved in implementing such policies, through their imprecise functions often blur the distinction between policy and implementation stages all the way from the parliament to the streets. This is the moment in which an effective parliament clarifies both individual and institutional accountabilities and establishes efficient policy processes to save Armenia from perpetual underdevelopment.
An important approach for political development is to conceptualize and to define the role of all political and economic institutions closely connected to the infrastructural needs that will improve the living conditions. The idea is that institutions are crucial for development so that the infrastructure will not be neglected or remain dysfunctional. The emphasis is on the clarity of the institutions and the way they shape the response to the utilitarian functions of public policies. After all, an effective parliament is directly connected to the public-oriented or inclusive institutional norms (such as responsiveness, development, services, and creativity) and the way it carries responsibilities follows the utilitarian outcome of the policies.
Ideally, the new parliament will advance the much needed institutional culture in Armenia. The members of the parliament, for example, will begin to shape policies that have public orientation and infrastructural value. This institutional thinking assumes that public policy will be motivated by internal developmental logic in which the parliamentarians will play the most important role.
Policy making will, of course, come through clashes of ideas. However, decisions will be shaped and supported by the coalition of parliamentarians only to reflect public good and development. It is normal to have different sets of perception and ideas even within the same coalition, say the ARF and the Republican Party. Disagreements and discussions will emerge over the need to create new policies. However, in the development of new policies the contending parties will bargain over issues and options that will primarily serve the public.
The primary concern at the present juncture is to see the stability and the development policies in Armenia tailored to the infrastructure, or the local context. The emphasis is the priority of endogenous development strategy as the best approach for Armenia to sustain itself. In this context, an important consideration is the inherent links between the institutions (legislative, bureaucratic, financial) and society and how each impacts the other. Thus, the process of policy-making will be deliberated as a development process closely ingrained in the infrastructural conditions of the country.