YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian strongly defended his government’s track record on Friday as tens of thousands of people rallied in Yerevan to mark his first 100 days in office.
Pashinian claimed to have practically eradicated corruption in Armenia, ensured continued economic growth and established the kind of “people’s direct rule” that had existed in ancient Greece. He also blasted the country’s former leaders highly critical of the government formed as a result of last spring’s mass protests.
“One hundred days ago your will prevailed and the international community still does not understand what happened in Armenia, why and how it happened,” Pashinian told huge crowd that filled the city’s central Republic Square, the main scene of the protests that brought him to power. He referred to himself as a “direct representative of the will of the Armenian people.”
“In Armenia, there is no coalition government. In Armenia, there is no parliamentary majority. In Armenia, supreme power directly belongs to the people and the people carry out direct rule. This is the key meaning of the revolution that took place in Armenia,” he declared in a more than hour-long speech.
Accordingly, Pashinian went on, crowds gathering in the sprawling square must now be regarded as the “supreme body of the people’s rule.” “This means that from now on this government will be accountable to this square, will obey this square, and all key decisions must be made here at this square,” he declared.
“In the future, the Republic of Armenia could be cited in the historical context just like ancient Greece is cited now and Yerevan could be cited like ancient Athens,” he added.
Turning to his first 100 days in power, Pashinian said that despite the recent political turmoil Armenia’s economy has not only avoided a downturn but is continuing to grow robustly thanks to his government’s efforts to improve the business environment. “I want to assure you that we will have serious very successes in the economy,” he said.
Pashinian did not make any growth forecasts. Instead, he touted the government’s crackdown on corruption and tax evasion and said it has already succeeded in breaking up economic monopolies that had long hampered faster growth. “Money stolen from the people will be recovered fully,” he said, citing recent audits of some companies that have resulted in tens of millions of dollars in additional tax revenue.
The 43-year-old premier rejected critics’ claims that the new authorities are scaring away investors with those audits and undermining Armenia’s strategic relationship with Russia. “I can say for sure that Russian-Armenian relations are not only not bad but … are good and will get even better,” he said.
In a rare diplomatic dispute with Yerevan, Moscow strongly criticized late last month criminal charges brought against several former Armenian officials for their alleged role in the deadly breakup of 2008 opposition protests in the Armenian capital. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the charges as politically motivated.
The accused individuals include former President Robert Kocharian and Yuri Khachaturov, the secretary general of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Both men strongly deny the accusations. Kocharian has claimed that they are part of a political “vendetta” waged by the new government.
In a clear reference to Kocharian, Pashinian said: “I want to make clear that no one will avoid responsibility for killing 10 people and staging a coup d’etat in Armenia on March 1  … All murderers will go to prison.” He defended the ongoing criminal inquiry into the 2008 unrest conducted by the Special Investigative Service (SIS).
Kocharian was arrested on July 27 on charges of “overthrowing the constitutional order” in the final weeks of his decade-long rule. Armenia’s Court of Appeals freed him from custody more than two weeks later. The SIS condemned the court’s decision as “illegal.”
In his fiery speech, Pashinian again insisted that his administration is not exerting any pressure on courts. Still, he slammed unnamed judges who he said are still taking “orders from representatives of the former corrupt authorities.” “Come to your senses and don’t mess with the people,” he warned them.
Pashinian was elected prime minister on March 8 by the Armenian parliament then controlled by the Republican Party (HHK) of former President Serzh Sarkisian, who was forced to resign on April 23. His government’s policy program calls for the conduct of snap elections within a year.
Under Armenia’s constitution, such elections can be held only if the prime minister resigns and the National Assembly twice fails to elect his or her replacement.
Pashinian on Friday for the first time spoke of a possibility of the HHK and other parliamentary forces installing another prime minister and thus preventing snap polls in case of his resignation. He said his political team will therefore come up with constitutional amendments that would allow the parliament to dissolve itself. He told his supporters to be ready to force lawmakers to enact those amendments.
Pashinian again gave no possible election dates.