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By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s newly elected parliamentarians ignored en masse the start of a U.S.-funded course on Wednesday aimed at raising their professional level and thus improving the quality of laws to be passed by them.

The course, which will run through July 3, is part of a broader program by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to strengthen the Armenian legislature and also covers the core personnel of the National Assembly. It will largely involve seminars and discussions conducted by experts from the United States, Germany, Poland and Ukraine.

Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian welcomed the initiative. “We hope to carry out important reforms in Armenia’s parliament during the implementation of this program,” Baghdasarian said, opening the training course.

However, only five deputies attended its opening session. Two of them have already served in the previous parliaments. Parliament staffers displayed far greater interest, showing up in the dozens.

The current National Assembly, elected on May 25, went into a three-month summer last week after promptly forming its leadership and rubber-stamping a plan of action submitted by the new Armenian government. Few of its members visit the parliament building these days. Several lawmakers were in their offices while the USAID course went on. Speaking to RFE/RL, some of them said they would like to learn more legislative skills but would not explain their reluctance to use that opportunity.

About half of the 131 deputies were elected to the parliament, dominated by supporters of President Robert Kocharian, for the first time. Many of the freshmen are wealthy entrepreneurs who have faced allegations of buying their seats with vote bribes. Their intellectual capabilities have are widely questioned by the local media.

The USAID initiative is to focus on strengthening the parliament’s capacity to oversee the implementation of the government’s budget and other economic programs. The USAID is also upgrading the chamber’s logistical facilities. As a result of that, the Armenian deputies will soon be given computerized access to the library of the U.S. Congress.
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