By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Astghik Bedevian
The National Assembly began on Thursday a fresh procedure of electing Armenia’s new human rights ombudsman one day after unexpectedly failing to endorse a candidate put forward by President Robert Kocharian.
Armen Harutiunian, Kocharian’s chief adviser on constitutional law, addressed lawmakers for the second time this week after being again nominated for the vacant post by leaders of the pro-presidential parliament majority. Harutiunian reiterated that he will seek “cooperation, rather than confrontation with the state and the government,” if he is elected to run the Office of the Human Rights Defender.
His predecessor Larisa Alaverdian, who resigned a month ago in accordance with one of the recently enacted constitutional amendments, repeatedly criticized the Kocharian administration’s human rights record during her two-year tenure. Alaverdian says the criticism was responsible for the authorities’ decision to replace her by a staunch government loyalist.
Harutiunian on Wednesday fell ten votes short of winning a three-fifths majority in the parliament required Armenia’s amended constitution. The 42-year-old lawyer told RFE/RL that he did not consider dropping out of the race after the setback. “Why should I? I got 69 votes,” he argued.
Harutiunian’s opposition challenger, Ruben Torosian, got 25 votes. The opposition minority decided earlier on Thursday to field a new candidate for the post: Hrant Khachatrian, a parliament deputy from the Artarutyun alliance. “My chances are slim but realistic,” Khachatrian told reporters.
Shortly before the debate Artarutyun leaders urged the parliament majority to vote for Khachatrian as a gesture of good will. “The ombudsman is supposed to defend people against government abuse. That means only the opposition do the job,” one of them, Aram G. Sarkisian.
The idea was predictably rejected by the parliament leadership. “Our opponents told us that they will put forward Armen Harutiunian’s candidacy and the vote will show who wins. They are against such a precedent,” said Victor Dallakian, another Artarutyun leader.
Speaker Artur Baghdasarian claimed that he and other deputies representing his Orinats Yerkir Party would have backed Khachatrian if he had been nominated “one month earlier.” “I have utmost respect for Hrant Khachatrian, but we have already made a political decision [to support Harutiunian],” he told RFE/RL.
It is not yet clear when the parliament will finish the debate and hold the second vote.