By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s biggest opposition group, the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, decided on Friday to continue its seven-month boycott of parliament debates, defying government threats to revoke the mandates of its 14 lawmakers.
The other opposition force represented in the National Assembly, the National Unity Party (AMK) is expected to follow suit -- a move that would mark a continuation of a political confrontation between the Armenian authorities and their opponents.
Victor Dallakian, an Artarutyun leader, said the bloc’s governing board headed by Stepan Demirchian decided that its parliamentary faction will not attend the upcoming autumn session of the 131-member legislature because the authorities have failed to meet any of the opposition demands.
“In effect, there has been no serious change of the situation,” he told reporters. “Nor have the reasons for our departure from the National Assembly been eliminated. That is why the alliance finds its activity in the National Assembly not expedient.”
Dallakian said Artarutyun continues to demand a referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian and a punishment of security officials responsible for the violent break-up of the opposition demonstration in Yerevan early on April 13. “Restoration of constitutional order and formation of a legitimate government” remain the key opposition goal, he added.
The pro-Kocharian parliament majority’s refusal to debate such a recall vote, suggested by the Constitutional Court in April 2003, is what prompted the Artarutyun deputies and their nine colleagues from the AMK to start the boycott. The move was followed by their joint campaign of street protests aimed at forcing Kocharian into resignation. The bid for regime change, which has been denounced as unconstitutional by the authorities, fizzled out by early June amid mass arrests of opposition activists across the country.
Leaders of the parliament majority have tried hard to get the opposition minority to return to the parliament during the traditional summer lull in Armenian politics. In particular they have offered it a say in their ongoing efforts to reform Armenia’s constitution and electoral legislation.
Earlier this month, the parliamentary leader of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party, Galust Sahakian, claimed that the authorities need the opposition’s cooperation to better cope with external challenges that might “endanger Armenian statehood.” He at the same time reiterated government threats to strip the opposition of its parliament seats.
Armenian law allows the parliament to recall deputies that fail to attend its sessions for “unjustified” reasons.
The threats have been shrugged off as a “bluff” by both Artarutyun and the AMK. The latter’s outspoken leader, Artashes Geghamian, told RFE/RL this week that government officials have tried to convince AMK candidates that failed to get elected to the parliament on the party list basis last year to take the place of the AMK deputies. He claimed that none of them has agreed to break ranks.
Geghamian and Dallakian said that the opposition will rethink their tactics which failed to bear fruit last spring. The Artarutyun board will discuss the issue on September 2. “Naturally, there will be unexpected approaches and solutions,” Dallakian said without elaborating.