By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s leading opposition parties claimed on Monday major headway in their efforts to unseat President Robert Kocharian but again refused to disclose how many lawmakers support the launch of impeachment proceedings against him.
Opposition leaders, including Artashes Geghamian of the National Unity party, kept under wraps the number of deputies who want to bring up the impeachment issue in the parliament, saying only that it is higher than they had expected. Geghamian told RFE/RL that as many as 600,000 Armenians have already signed a petition calling for the president’s resignation.
National Unity and two other major groups, the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) and the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, joined forces last month to campaign for Kocharian’s ouster. They accuse him of corruption, misrule and obstruction of the criminal investigation into the October 1999 shootings in the parliament. The opposition alleges that several decrees signed by Kocharian in the spring of 2000 – at the height of a government infighting – were unconstitutional.
Kocharian and his allies have shrugged off the charges, saying that the impeachment campaign is a public relations stunt aimed at discrediting the authorities.
Under the Armenian constitution, the president can be removed from office if the Constitutional Court convicts him of high treason or other “grave crimes.” Most deputies of the 131-member assembly are loyal to the head of state and unlikely to back his impeachment.
The three opposition parties need the support of at least 44 deputies to force a debate on the issue. According to one of the HZhK lawmakers, Aramayis Barseghian, they are confident that they will secure the necessary number of signatures. He also said that some deputies from Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) have also signed the opposition petition, a claim denied by the leader of Republican faction, Galust Sahakian.
Sahakian said the Republicans are firmly opposed to the impeachment initiative. Representatives of two other parliamentary parties, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and Orinats Yerkir, also spoke out against the idea.