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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Vahan Hovannisian, the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, decried on Wednesday widespread absenteeism among fellow lawmakers that nearly disrupted the start of the National Assembly’s spring session.

The 131-member assembly dominated by government loyalists was forced to delay a planned debate by two hours after failing to make a quorum in the morning. It was also largely deserted on Tuesday, even though its electronic voting system indicated the presence of more than 66 deputies.

“Many deputies have had their sense of responsibility weakened or simply lack it. They just don’t come to work,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL.

The spring session began on Monday in the absence of parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and several other deputies affiliated with his Orinats Yerkir Party. They are currently accompanying Baghdasarian on an official visit to several Gulf Arab states and will not be back until Friday. Some members of the parliament majority privately question the need for such a trip and criticize its timing.

Also contributing to poor attendance is the continuing boycott of parliament sessions by 23 deputies representing the National Assembly’s two opposition factions. The Artarutyun bloc and the National Unity Party (AMK) had earlier indicated that they will end the year-long boycott if President Robert Kocharian and his loyal parliament majority accept their proposals on constitutional reform. The presidential camp effectively rejected those conditions last week.

“The Artarutyun alliance therefore finds its participation in parliament sessions pointless,” a spokeswoman for the bloc told RFE/RL.

Hovannisian, meanwhile, called for tougher sanctions against absenteeism. The parliament’s existing regulations already stipulate that a deputy who fails to take part in most parliament votes during a semi-annual session can be stripped of their mandate.

The provision could have been applied to the boycotting oppositionists. However, the pro-Kocharian majority has so far avoided enforcing it for political reasons.

Many pro-presidential parliamentarians now seem reluctant to take their seats despite the National Assembly’s controversial decision late last year to reduce the frequency of its debates. The legislature held a three-day sitting every other week, but will now convene for four consecutive days once in three weeks.

(Photolur photo: Vahan Hovannisian.)
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