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Armenian government to hold closed sessions, giving up on transparency

Media figures regard it as a step backwards

The Armenian government has approved a bill on ‘the structure and activity of the government’, under which the present-day open format of government sessions will be replaced with a closed one, meaning the media will no longer have access to government sessions.

The Armenian Justice Minister, David Harutyunyan pointed out when introducing the document that the head of the government should ensure the publicity of the Cabinet’s activity.

However, experts believe that a closed-door format will make it impossible to ensure transparency and publicity of the government’s work.

Moreover, under the proposed bill government members such as ministers will not be entitled to disclose any information on issues discussed at the government sessions without the prime minister’s behest.

“I don’t know what is there that the government needs to hide from the public and press. It’s not a bad thing when journalists participate in sessions and present the adopted decisions to the public, is it? If we claim to be a democratic country, which is enshrined in the Constitution, then it’s necessary to present the government’s work to the public.

“How has it come to happen that the ministers will be forbidden to express their point of view? It’s very negative. It resembles the activity of the Communist Party back in Soviet times, when there was no pluralism, and the dissidents were exiled from the country,” said Vahagn Khachatryan, an economist.

The bill also specifies that government sessions may be held in an open format as well should the prime minister decide to do so. However, that hasn’t relieved the situation. Media figures have also stated their disapproval of the bill.

Anna Israelyan, an editor of the ‘Aravot’ newspaper’s online version, noted that the incumbent premier is not a big proponent of publicity. Generally speaking, none of the government officials support the idea of excessive publicity, and the ministers usually avoid reporters’ questions by ‘escaping through the back door of the government building.’

Armen Badalyan, a political strategist, pointed out that the new approach to transparency is related to the upcoming replacement of the prime minister. He said that after the constitutional amendments Armenia would switch to the parliamentary system of government, and the country will be ruled by the premier rather than by the president. Badalyan believes that it’s the incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan who will become the prime minister after his presidential term is over, and the latter doesn’t like to communicate with journalists publicly.

“When government sessions are chaired by Serzh Sargsyan, he will say some catchy phrases, which is often the case in any public, unplanned interview or comment by Serzh Sargsyan. So, to avoid that, it has been decided to hold closed-door sessions,” believes Armen Badalyan.

The bill will be submitted to parliament for consideration. Should the National Assembly pass it, the new regulation will come into effect when Armenia finally switches to the parliamentary system of government.

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