By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Gevorg Stamboltsian
A key committee of the National Assembly on Friday paved the way for the ouster of opposition lawmakers from the Armenian parliament when it declared their seven-month boycott of parliament sessions “unjustified.”
The committee on legal affairs proposed that the parliament discuss and vote on its recommendations in a secret ballot at the start of its autumn session next week. However, it is expected that most of its pro-government members will vote against the drastic measure dismissed as a “bluff” by the opposition minority.
“We have no problem with you declaring our absence unjustified,” Victor Dallakian, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Artarutyun alliance, told committee members.
“The committee must stick to the letter of the law,” countered Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Republican Party (HHK), referring to legal provisions allowing the parliamentarians to strip their colleagues of their mandates for absenteeism. He was quick to add that the parliament as a whole will take a “political decision.”
Another parliament majority leader, Levon Mkrtchian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), similarly hinted that the ouster of the opposition minority is not on the cards.
Artarutyun and its opposition ally, the National Unity Party (AMK), together hold 24 seats in the 131-member assembly. Their deputies walked out of the parliament in late January in protest against its refusal to debate a “referendum of confidence” in President Robert Kocharian.
The idea was floated by Armenia’s Constitutional Court in the wake of Kocharian’s disputed reelection last year. The Armenian leader and his allies have rejected its as unconstitutional.
Dallakian said the recall vote remains a key condition for Artarutyun’s return to the parliament sought by the authorities. He also demanded that the authorities drop their “fabricated” criminal charges against Artarutyun and punish officials that committed human rights abuses during last spring’s opposition campaign for Kocharian’s resignation.
The AMK’s outspoken leader, Artashes Geghamian, listed similar conditions for the resumption of his party’s participation in the National Assembly’s work. “Given that the authorities have taken no steps whatsoever to return to the constitutional framework … we do not wish to return to the National Assembly and create a smokescreen of democracy for that illegitimate body,” he told RFE/RL.
This position was reaffirmed by hundreds of AMK activists that gathered for a party conference later in the day.
Geghamian claimed that the authorities are threatening to revoke the opposition’s parliament mandates to “deflect attention from their own serious failings” and warned them against following through on those threats.
(Photolur photo: Artarutyun MPs attending a parliament session before the boycott.)