By Armen Zakarian
The chairman of a key committee of the Armenian parliament added his voice on Monday to opposition criticism of a government-drafted bill that would give speaker Armen Khachatrian sweeping powers to punish deputies disrupting debate.
Victor Dallakian, who heads the standing committee on legal affairs, said the draft law is "full of contradictions" and could be used for stifling dissent in the National Assembly.
"In fact, this is a law on pulling [deputies'] ears," Dallakian told RFE/RL, using a controversial phrase uttered by President Robert Kocharian last week.
Kocharian said law-enforcement officials have the right to arrest disruptive opposition lawmakers even by "pulling their ears." He said they will do so if the opposition minority again paralyzes the parliament by seizing its rostrum or otherwise. The controversial bill approved by the government last Thursday is apparently aimed at substantiating Kocharian's threats.
The proposed amendments in the parliament statutes have already been denounced as "unconstitutional" by the opposition. They empower Khachatrian to remove deputies from the parliament hall and ban them from entering it for up to 15 days. The speaker would be able to order police to enforce the punishment.
According to Dallakian, the draft amendments go against the spirit of the existing parliament statutes. "Under the existing statutes the speaker of the National Assembly can not have such powers," he said.
The bill is one of 24 issues placed on the agenda of an extraordinary session of the parliament which began on Monday. But deputy speaker Tigran Torosian claimed in the afternoon that he has still not received it.
It is the first time that the Armenian executive is pushing for changes in a law that regulates the legislature's day-to-day work. Dallakian and opposition deputies are particularly resentful about that fact, accusing the government of meddling in their affairs.
Dallakian is a member of the largest Miasnutyun faction which supports Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. However, he surprisingly sided with the opposition during the recent political battle over the launch of impeachment proceedings against the president.