By Nane Atshemian
The long-running opposition boycott of Armenia’s parliament has turned the National Assembly into a dull and apolitical body that mainly rubber-stamps government bills, one of its pro-government members admitted over the weekend.
Armen Ashotian said he has found legislative work exceedingly “uninteresting” ever since joining the assembly from the electoral slate of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) last February.
“I feel the absence of the opposition,” he told reporters. “Parliament debates are now personal and not ideological in nature. There are no political debates.”
The 18-month boycott dates back to February 2004 when the parliament’s pro-government majority refused to consider opposition demands for a “referendum of confidence” in President Robert Kocharian. The HHK and other pro-Kocharian factions in the 131-member legislature have repeatedly urged the opposition minority to end the boycott.
The parliament’s two opposition factions rejected those calls out of hand until Kocharian and his ruling coalition pledged late last month to accept major amendments to Armenia’s constitution suggested by the Council of Europe.
The opposition boycott has not caused the Armenian authorities embarrassment in the international arena but also led to widespread absenteeism among pro-government lawmakers, many of them wealthy individuals that were elected on the HHK ticket.
Ashotian, who leads the HHK’s youth wing, apparently referred to them when he said, “I wouldn’t like to see many people in our party ranks and I hope that our party will not become means for those people to penetrate the parliament once again.”
The 29-year-old politician was also critical of the state of democracy in Armenia, saying that the authorities are using the National Assembly and ordinary people alike as a “rubber stamp” for their decisions. But he was quick to voice his strong opposition to the idea of regime change in the country, arguing that the ongoing reform of the Armenian constitution is a better way to “wake up democracy.”