By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A key committee of the Armenian parliament recommended the legislature on Friday not to debate opposition demands for a “referendum of confidence” in President Robert Kocharian at the start of its spring session next week.
The move, denounced by opposition lawmakers, is in line with the parliament leadership’s earlier pledge to block debate on corresponding amendments Armenia’s law on referendum that were unexpectedly included on the National Assembly agenda last October.
“The negative opinion of the Committee on State and Legal Affairs will be submitted Monday to the National Assembly,” its chairman, Rafik Petrosian, told RFE/RL. “It can vote to decide whether or not to include the issue on the agenda.”
“Given the opinion of the [ruling] coalition and the parliament majority, it seems to me that the National Assembly will agree with the committee’s conclusion,” he added.
The panel met in the absence of the main author of the proposed amendments, Victor Dallakian of the opposition “Artarutyun (Justice) bloc. Dallakian, who deliberately boycotted the meeting, claimed that under the parliamentary statutes it was not allowed to make any decisions on the opposition initiative without hearing his arguments.
“This shows that the authorities are in panic over the holding of the referendum of confidence,” he said.
Dallakian’s knowledge of legal loopholes was instrumental in the majority’s apparently inadvertent inclusion of the referendum issue on the Kocharian-controlled assembly’s general agenda. The veteran lawmaker, who headed the legal committee in the previous parliament, is now promising another trickery to force an embarrassing discussion of Kocharian’s legitimacy dented by his controversial reelection last year.
“Let’s wait till Monday,” a smiling Dallakian told RFE/RL, again refusing to detail the opposition tactics.
The idea of a popular vote of confidence in Kocharian was suggested by Armenia’s Constitutional Court as a way of overcoming a serious political crisis resulting from the disputed presidential election of March 2003. Even though the court chairman, Gagik Harutiunian, subsequently distanced himself from the idea angrily rejected by Kocharian and his allies, the Armenian opposition has continued to use it as a rallying point for its activities.
Explaining the authorities’ unwillingness to even consider legal amendments paving the way for such a referendum, Petrosian argued that the Constitutional Court ruling did not mention Kocharian by name. “One can only presume that it referred to confidence in the president,” he said. “The court should have specified to whom it referred.”
The parliament leadership will be unable to resist the debate if the opposition motion is backed at least 44 members of the 131-member assembly. However, Artarutyun and the other opposition group represented in the parliament, the National Unity Party, together hold only 23 seats there.
Artarutyun leaders indicated earlier that they will try to force the pro-Kocharian majority to cave in by rallying thousands of supporters outside the parliament building in Yerevan.