By Armen Zakarian and Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s parliament, the scene of fierce political battles this week, went into summer recess on Wednesday, failing to overcome its three-day shutdown imposed by its vocal opposition minority protesting speaker Armen Khachatrian’s refusal to allow an impeachment debate.
The parliament’s pro-government majority rubber-stamped three draft laws without a debate, ignoring several opposition deputies who continued to block the main rostrum and prevent anybody else from speaking. But it was nonetheless forced to end the proceedings until September without discussing several issues remaining on the agenda.
“I finally interrupt our proceedings. The session is over,” Khachatrian declared after the protesters refused his request to allow a deputy minister of environment to present a government bill.
The tensions, which nearly flared up into a large-scale brawl on Tuesday, somewhat eased on Wednesday, with the parliament majority looking resigned to its inability to unblock the podium for debate. The largest Miasnutyun faction and its allies have defended Khachatrian’s decision not to place the issue of launching an impeachment procedure against President Robert Kocharian on the agenda.
Opposition factions, which have stepped up their attacks on Kocharian over the past two months, insist that the speaker must have sanctioned an impeachment debate without their having to enlist the support of at least one-third of the 131 deputies. They point to a clause in the parliament’s recently adopted statutes allowing them to bring any issue to the parliament floor under certain circumstances.
Kocharian on Tuesday endorsed the majority’s arguments that the provision is not applicable to the impeachment issue. He condemned as “hooliganism” the opposition efforts to disrupt the parliament session and threatened to take unspecified measures to restore order in the National Assembly.
The remarks were in turn denounced by opposition leaders who vowed to continue to fight for Kocharian’s ouster. “I now declare that he is no longer the country’s president, but is just an individual who is temporarily performing presidential duties until next fall,” Aram Sarkisian, the former prime minister and a leader of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party, told RFE/RL.
Hanrapetutyun is one of 13 opposition groups that joined forces in early April after the closure of the independent A1+ television station. The scandalous move sparked off a series of street protests and re-ignited long-running opposition calls for Kocharian’s impeachment.
Sarkisian said the opposition alliance will soon use more legal loopholes to keep up pressure on the authorities. “We have many new things to do. We will make them study the laws and statutes seriously,” he said without elaborating.
Other opposition leaders said they will not block brief “extraordinary” sessions of the parliament that will likely be convened by the government during the summer recess. But they vowed to renew the protest at the start of its next regular session in September.
Both rival camps denied reports that they are considering a compromise deal whereby they will jointly a seek a Constitutional Court ruling on whether Khachatrian’s actions went against the law. Either side blamed the other for the standoff that led the speaker to ban the deputies from carrying weapons inside the parliament building.
Meanwhile, the opposition claimed that seven of its activists were detained by police for taking part in this week’s demonstrations outside the building, which were not sanctioned by the city authorities. Deputy Interior Minister Hovannes Varian had no comment on the claims, saying only that the gatherings were “illegal.”