Kocharian Reshuffles Government; Seven Ministries Cut

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan–RFE/RL)–President Robert Kocharian signed a decree Monday introducing changes to the government structure which include the abolishment of seven ministries and introduction of five new ministers.

Presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian announced the new appointmen’s during a press conference immediately following the signing of the decree.

Under the decree the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Welfare were combined into the Ministry of Health & Social Welfare. Ararat Mkrtchian was named the new minister of health. He was born in Ararat in 1953 and has been an assistant professor. Since 1998 he heads the State Public Health Agency.

Also combined were the ministries of agriculture and environment Zaven Gevorgian was named minister of the new Agriculture and Environmental Protection Ministry. He was born in Yerevan in 1942 and worked from 1995-96 worked in Moscow as manager of Wengen Overseas Company. Since 1997 he has served as president of the "Troyetskoye" Industrial Association.

Former minister of finance Levon Barkhudarian was picked to lead the newly merged Ministry of Finance & Economy. Barkhudarian was born in Yerevan in 1958 and has worked as Deputy Economy Minister and later as Finance Minister. He was a presidential advisor from 1997 to 19 and was appointed ambassador to Canada in 1998.

The transportation and post and telecommunications ministries were merged into the ministry of Transport and Communication. Former deputy energy minister Robert Nazarian was appointed to lead this post.

Several ministries have also be re-organized under the new government structure.

The privatization ministry was re-organized into the ministry of state property management and National Democratic Union leader David Vardanian was appointed to lead this ministry. Vardanian is a member of the National Assembly and has held several governmental posts.

The ministry of urban development was re-organized into the ministry of territorial administration and city planning with Communist Party of Armenia Central Committee member Leonid Hakopian as its new head.

In a separate decree issued Monday–Kocharian laid off agriculture minister Gagik Shahbazian–regional government minister Khosrov Harutunian–environmental protection minister Gevork Vardanian–health minister Haik Nikoghosian–economy minister Armen Darbinian–privatization minister Pavel Ghaltaghtchian–social services minister Razmik Martirossian–urban development minister Hrair Hovhanessian–post and telecommunications minister Rouben Tonoyan–Armenia’s state registrar Stepan Mnatsakanian and chief of cabinet staff Shahen Karamanoukian.

The new government includes representatives of two major opposition groups–the center-right National Democratic Union and Communist Party.

The Communists will control two ministerial portfolios for the first time since they were removed from power in 1990. One of their leading members–Leonid Hakobian–will head the newly incorporated ministry of construction and local government. Another Communist nominee–Ararat Mkrtchian–will head the ministries of social security and public health that merged into a single agency. The NDU’s David Vardanian was named minister for state property–reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Under the new government structure endorsed by Kocharian–the number of ministries will be cut from 24 to 17. Five of them will be headed by newcomers–while the current pivotal ministers of defense–interior–national security–finance and foreign affairs will stay on.

Changes in the government’s economic policy agreed with Western lending institutions are therefore unlikely. Kocharian will continue to exercise direct control over the country’s foreign policy as one of his closest allies–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian–kept his job. Also avoiding replacement was another Kocharian loyalist–Justice Minister David Harutiunian.

Prime Minister Aram Sargsyan and eight leading parties vowed a week ago to work together in tackling serious social and economic problems that have dogged Armenia’since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They hope that the power-sharing deal will help restore political stability damaged by the October 27 assassinations in the Armenian parliament.

Local observers believe the reshuffle will enable the politically inexperienced Sargsyan to expand his support base and strengthen his positions. Some of his loyalists called for Kocharian’s resignation in the wake of the parliament killings.

The format of the reshuffle reflected the persisting uneasy relationship between the head of state and some government members. Informed sources told RFE/RL that instead of installing the whole cabinet in a single decree–Kocharian chose to name the new ministers separately to avoid re-appointing Vahan Shirkhanian–the minister for industrial infrastructures and his arch-foe.

The signing of the presidential decree followed Saturday’s meeting between Kocharian and leaders of the Unity bloc–of which premier Sargsyan is a member.

"The president agreed to the proposed structure and make-up of the government," one of the participants–deputy parliament speaker Gagik Aslanian–told RFE/RL. "The Unity bloc must be primarily responsible for government policies. Robert Kocharian consented to sharing that responsibility," he said.

The issue of policy responsibility has been at the heart of the overall critical reaction to the latest developmen’s from the Armenian press. Papers have speculated that Sargsyan and his inner circle aim to dilute public disaffection with their failure to improve the economic situation. Unity–which is made up of the Republican and People’s parties and holds a majority in the National Assembly–will control at least five ministries. Two of the newcomers–Transport and Communications Minister Robert Nazarian and Agriculture Minister Zaven Gevorgian–were nominated by the People’s Party.

The current cabinet is made up of the ministries of National Security–Health and Social Welfare–Justice–Industry & Trade–Coordination of Industrial Infrastructure Activities–Foreign Affairs–Agriculture & Environmental protection–Energy–Science & Education–Culture–Youth Affairs & Sports–Interior–Defense–State Property Management–State Revenues–Transport & Communication–Territorial Administration & City Planning and Finance & Economy.

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