By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Ending months of speculation, the Armenian parliament refrained on Monday from revoking the mandates of the opposition lawmakers boycotting its sessions despite repeated threats by its pro-presidential majority.
The leadership of the National Assembly postponed indefinitely a planned debate on the issue at the start of its regular autumn session. The discussion was scheduled to take place after the parliament committee on legal affairs declared the seven-month boycott “unjustified,” formally paving the way for the ouster of the 24 deputies representing the opposition Artarutyun bloc and National Unity Party (AMK).
“As chairman of the National Assembly I am not interested in stripping deputies of their mandates,” parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian told journalists. “We will now start legally regulating boycotts,” he added, calling for changes in the legislature’s statutes.
The statutes allow the majority of lawmakers to dismiss their colleagues for absenteeism. The decision by the standing committee gives them the legal grounds to do that. However, while threatening to strip the opposition minority of its mandates, the leaders of the governing three-party coalition have made it clear that their decision will be a “political one.”
“I think [opposition] presence is necessary,” Prime Minister Andranik Markarian told RFE/RL over the weekend. “Stripping them of mandates is a legal requirement. But there is also a need for a political decision. The coalition will discuss this issue.”
“We are dealing with a political position and we will probably need to react to it with a political assessment,” Baghdasarian agreed.
The opposition deputies walked out of the 131-member assembly in late January in protest against its refusal to debate a “referendum of confidence” in President Robert Kocharian. Artarutyun and the AMK continue to cite the demand as a the main precondition for their return to the legislature.
But Baghdasarian reiterated the pro-Kocharian majority’s strong opposition to the idea which was floated by Armenia’s Constitutional Court in April 2003. “There will be presidential elections in Armenia in three years’ time,” he said. “What referendum are they talking about?”