By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A long-running feud between parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and Justice Minister David Harutiunian resurfaced on Friday as the latter failed to push a government bill calling for tougher penalties for traffic rule violations through the National Assembly.
Baghdasarian and other deputies representing his Orinats Yerkir Party deliberately blocked draft amendments to Armenia’s Code of Administrative Offenses by boycotting the vote. Harutiunian denounced the move and alleged procedural violations during the process.
“We believe that the draft was put to the vote in a wrong fashion and it is possible that the government will demand a rerun of the vote,” he told reporters. He also accused Orinats Yerkir, which is represented in the Armenian by three ministers, of being biased against any legislative initiative coming from him.
The Orinats Yerkir boycott followed an angry verbal exchange between Harutiunian and Baghdasarian during Thursday’s debate on the proposed heavier fines for some forms of traffic rule violation. The speaker and his allies said that they would only exacerbate widespread corruption within the Armenian traffic police. Harutiunian, speaking on behalf of the government, claimed the opposite.
“Judging from the minister’s speech, there is no corruption in the judicial system and traffic police,” Baghdasarian charged. “There is corruption there and we must combat it. We will get nowhere by keeping our heads in the sand.”
“I have made astonishing discoveries,” Harutiunian shot back. “In particular, I have just understood who reserves the right to swear at a traffic policeman with impunity because they are deputies.”
Baghdasarian, who presided over the parliament sitting, responded by telling the minister to be “more serious” toward the lawmakers.
The bad blood between the two men dates back to May 2004 when the parliament’s Audit Chamber controlled by Baghdasarian accused the Justice Ministry of misusing a 1999 World Bank loan designed to strengthen Armenia’s judiciary. Harutiunian, backed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, rejected the allegations as “populist.”
Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), threw its weight behind Harutiunian on Friday, scolding Orinats Yerkir for again criticizing the government of which it is a part. “When a coalition force criticizes the government who is it trying to impress?” he told RFE/RL. “Who is supposed to address the criticism? We ourselves must do that job.”
“Those who have such views are wrong, whether it’s Galust Sahakian or anyone else,” said Samvel Balasanian, a senior Orinats Yerkir lawmaker. “If we avoid self-criticism we can not carry out any reforms.”
“Criticizing and attacking are different things,” Sahakian replied. “You just can’t spit on the plate from which you eat.”
Markarian and his Republicans themselves were embroiled in an angry spat with Baghdasarian earlier this year.
(Photolur photos: David Harutiunian, left, and Artur Baghdasarian.)