YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian pledged to take “drastic steps” to eradicate government corruption in Armenia as he presented his administration’s priorities to the National Assembly on Thursday.
In a 40-minute speech, Sarkisian said he will strive to turn Armenia into a rule-of-law country with a competitive economy, independent courts and equal opportunities for all citizens. He stressed the importance of public support for this endeavor but made no mention of the lingering political crisis triggered by last February’s disputed presidential election. His sole reference to the tense domestic political situation was an appeal to pro-government and opposition parties and media to stop offending each other in public.
Contrary to some expectations fueled by his own loyalists, Sarkisian did not announce a general amnesty for dozens of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who were arrested in the wake of the vote and remain in prison. Nor did he comment on chances of a dialogue with the Armenian opposition.
The president instead told the lawmakers to help him “build a society of resourceful and competitive individuals where there is no place for corruption, where corruption is simply not beneficial and illogical.”
“The fight against corruption will change its face,” he said. “We will switch to tougher and more uncompromising methods and a system of international standards.
“We will criminalize any manifestation of corruption. We will create a culture of absolute public intolerance towards corruption,” he added.
“The level of identifying and prosecuting abuse of power will rise irreversibly,” he said, promising high-profile prosecutions of corrupt officials.
Sarkisian admitted recently that the lack of such prosecutions undermined public trust in the Armenian government’s previous anti-graft campaigns that put the emphasis on legislative changes.
Sarkisian argued that the existence of an independent judiciary is also vital for strengthening the rule of law. “We must be able to put in place an independent judiciary based on the supremacy of law,” he said.
The pledge will ring hollow to opposition representatives and civil rights activists who have condemned as a travesty of justice the ongoing trials of opposition activists arrested in the wake of the presidential ballot. Virtually all of them have been found guilty by Armenian courts.
Economic development was another focus of the first presidential speech in the parliament, with Sarkisian promising to make the Armenian economy more competitive and ensure fair business competition. He said the economic situation in the country will also improve as a result of large-scale projects such as the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran and an Armenian-Iranian railway. He said that the government will also start constructing “in the coming months” a new nuclear plant in place of the aging Soviet-era facility at Metsamor.