By Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s two main opposition groups announced on Tuesday a joint boycott of sessions of parliament in protest against the authorities’ “illegal” refusal to consider a popular vote of confidence in President Robert Kocharian. But they remained divided over whether to take their campaign for regime change to the streets.
The Artarutyun (Justice) alliance and the National Unity Party issued a rare joint statement in response to the parliament majority’s rejection on Monday of their proposal to debate legal amendments that would make such a referendum possible. Their deputies staged a walkout before the vote.
“In these circumstances we boycotted the illegal vote and are suspending our participation in the work of such a parliament,” said the statement read out in the National Assembly by Artarutyun’s Victor Dallakian.
The opposition factions said the pro-Kocharian majority can not block debate on the referendum because the issue was included on the parliament’s broad agenda last October.
Speaker Artur Baghdasarian and other parliament leaders say that does not mean that it must necessarily be discussed by lawmakers. They also insist that the idea of a referendum of confidence, suggested by Armenia’s Constitutional Court in the wake of last year’s disputed presidential election, has no legal basis.
The opposition statement said Artarutyun and National Unity, which have a history of strained relations, are united in their resolve to oust a regime that “seriously threatens our national and state interests.” But it did not specify how they plan to accomplish that.
National Unity leader Artashes Geghamian exposed lingering tactical differences between the two forces earlier in the day when he reaffirmed his opposition to a campaign of street protests favored by Artarutyun leaders. Geghamian repeated his assertion that mass rallies would only play into Kocharian’s hands.
“The authorities are trying to provoke civil disobedience and even civil war because that would give them a unique chance to blame their numerous sins on the opposition,” he said. “We will naturally deny the authorities that chance. Our actions will be only within the framework of laws and the constitution.”
Geghamian’s cautious approach is in stark contrast with the position of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party of former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian, the most radical group inside Artarutyun. Its spokesman, Suren Sureniants, told RFE/RL that only “meetings with the people” and “big rallies” could build up pressure on the authorities. He said Hanrapetutyun leaders are currently consulting with their opposition allies and will formulate a plan of action “in a couple of days.”
There may also be differences inside Artarutyun itself. The bloc’s most popular leader, Stepan Demirchian, and his People’s Party do not seem to share Hanrapetutyun’s enthusiasm that Georgia’s November “revolution of roses” can be replicated in Armenia.
(Photolur photo: Geghamian, left, talking to Artarutyun's Shavarsh Kocharian in the parliament on Monday.)