After several weeks of intense protests, on May 8, the Armenian National Assembly elected Nikol Pashinyan to serve as country’s next prime minister by a vote of 59-42. At the heart of this revolution was a rejection of corruption, violence, and the Republican Party of Armenia’s (RPA) failed domestic socioeconomic policies and demands for greater social justice.
Over the past several weeks, Armenians have expressed a strong desire to be rid of the oligarchic system and to implement a more democratic and just system of governance. Pashinyan has spoken about making a break with the past and about the importance of rule of law, human rights, and the need to create a more equitable society, in which everyone is equal before the law. As the euphoric celebrations continue, he now faces the difficult task of developing a programme of action to address the many political, economic, and social issues facing the country (such as 18 percent unemployment; 30 percent poverty; the unresolved conflict; continuing emigration and brain drain; etc.).
An Armenian model of development?
Armenians are now demanding to live in a fairer, more just society, where citizens live with dignity and free from physical and economic violence. In this post-revolutionary period, there is the opportunity to radically rethink the hitherto accepted neoliberal model of development, which relied on privatisation, deregulation, and the apparent abdication by the Armenian government of its responsibilities for ensuring the well-being of its citizens.
I find it useful to draw on the work of the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. In his groundbreaking work, Development as Freedom, Sen examined how in a world of unprecedented increase in overall opulence, millions of people in both rich and poor countries are still unfree in that they are denied elementary freedoms and remain imprisoned in one way or another by economic poverty, social deprivation, political tyranny or cultural authoritarianism. Rather than fetishising economic growth and solely focusing on the growth of the gross national product (GNP), Sen maintains that GNP growth should be viewed as a means to expanding the freedoms enjoyed by members of society. He challenges narrow views of development in which political or social freedoms are seen as “not conducive to development” instead arguing that substantive freedoms, including the liberty of political participation, the opportunity to receive education or healthcare, are constituent components of development
To be clear, while knowledge of different economic and social development models and programmes can inform the formulation of development policies in Armenia, there are no readymade solutions. Policymakers in Armenia should be cautious to avoid the mistakes that occurred immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, where policy solutions were imported and implemented without due concern for their fit with the local context. It will not suffice to say, as former Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan suggested, “let’s imitate the Singaporean model of development.” The Singapore model relied on the Lee thesis, named after the former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, which maintains that democracy hurts economic growth…