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By Astghik Bedevian
Leaders of Armenia’s pro-government parliament majority on Friday spoke out against opposition demands for a parliamentary investigation into serious irregularities reported during the recent constitutional referendum.

The idea to form an ad hoc parliament commission has come from the opposition Artarutyun alliance which claims that the November 27 vote was rigged by the Armenian authorities. The idea is also supported by the second opposition group represented in parliament, the National Unity Party (AMK). But both political groups lack enough seats to even include the issue on the agenda, and they hope to enlist the support of pro-government lawmakers.

“There are people in the parliament majority who also think that the commission is necessary,” said Grigor Harutiunian, a member of the Artarutyun faction in the National Assembly.

But most majority leaders think otherwise. “I can not support something which is an end in itself,” said Galust Sahakian, leader of the largest parliament faction controlled by the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). “I will strive to ensure that the entire faction rejects the idea.”

Sahakian argued that the National Assembly has no legal authority to probe election results. “Nobody is against investigating vote violations, but you need legal powers to do that,” he told RFE/RL.

The Republican chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, Rafik Petrosian, made a similar point. “Even if such a commission is created, the opposition won’t have the power to appeal to the Constitutional Court, recount ballots and do other things,” he said, adding that this is the prerogative of the Central Election Commission and law-enforcement bodies.

A leading member of another governing party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) also sounded skeptical about the opposition proposal. “We have to understand what functions that commission would have,” said Armen Rustamian. “Is it meant to address real problems or is just another attempt to exploit the issue?”

Opposition lawmakers seem to pin their hopes on the Orinats Yerkir Party of parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian who has publicly acknowledged that the referendum was accompanied by ballot box stuffing and other irregularities. Orinats Yerkir representatives said the party will formulate its position on the proposed parliamentary inquiry after Baghdasarian’s return from a visit to Austria.

According to the government-controlled CEC, as many as 1.5 million people, or nearly two thirds of Armenia’s eligible voters, took part in the referendum and 93 percent of them voted for the amendments. The reported turnout, unusually high by Armenian standards, starkly contrasted with deserted polling stations witnessed by journalists and observers.

Artarutyun and the AMK have alleged massive fraud. Observers from the Council of Europe similarly cast serious doubt on the credibility of the official figures. Both they and the United States and the European Union have urged the Armenian authorities to investigate the reported fraud.

Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General launched recently criminal proceedings against three individuals who allegedly cast three extra ballots in place of their friends and relatives on referendum day. However, none of the men sat on election commissions and were in a position to affect referendum results.

(Photolur photo: Sahakian, left, and other HHK deputies pictured during a parliament session.)
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