YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian announced his widely anticipated resignation on Thursday, citing his government’s failure to address many economic and political challenges facing Armenia.
Chairing his last cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Abrahamian blamed the lingering “polarization of the society” on unfavorable external “geopolitical” and economic factors. He said radical solutions to them require “a new start.”
“We are still a country with transitional problems where we need joint efforts by the government and the society in order to improve the economic and social situation,” he said. “And that requires new approaches, a new start.”
“That is why I have decided to resign and enable the president form a new government,” added the premier.
Abrahamian at the same time defended his government’s track record, saying that economic growth in Armenia has accelerated in the last 18 months despite a recession in Russia and the resulting sharp drops in remittances from Armenian migrant workers. He also claimed credit for double-digit increases in Armenian exports shown by official statistics and said that his government has implemented key infrastructure projects in the agriculture sector that will bear fruit in the near future.
President Serzh Sarkisian is widely expected to replace Abrahamian by Karen Karapetian, a former Yerevan mayor who has worked for Russia’s Gazprom gas giant for the past few years.
The resignation comes just four months after Abrahamian pledged to step up his government’s fight against corruption, significantly improve the domestic business environment and speed up other reforms. The premier cited new security challenges facing Armenia as a result of the April 2016 escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Opposition politicians and other critics of the government dismissed that pledge as a publicity stunt. They claim that Armenia’s leaders are disinterested in sweeping reforms because they have long abused their positions to enrich themselves and their cronies.
The Armenian press has speculated in recent months that Sarkisian may well sack Abrahamian and some key ministers in a bid to address popular dissatisfaction with the difficult economic situation in the country.
The speculation intensified after the Armenian authorities’ recent two-week standoff with opposition gunmen that seized a police station in Yerevan. Thousands of people demonstrated in Yerevan in support of the gunmen. Sarkisian pledged to form a “government of national accord” after the latter laid down their arms on July 31.
Under the Armenian constitution, all members of Abrahamian’s cabinet must also step down now. The new cabinet to be formed by Sarkisian must receive a vote of confidence from the parliament, in which the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) holds a comfortable majority.
Sarkisian named Abrahamian prime minister in April 2014 in what many observers saw as an attempt to avert major anti-government protests which were planned by the country’s leading opposition parties. Abrahamian has close personal ties to Gagik Tsarukian, the then leader of the biggest of those parties, Prosperous Armenia.
Abrahamian had previously served as parliament speaker and deputy prime minister. He has extensive business interests developed since the early 1990s.