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By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s governing parties stepped up on Wednesday their efforts to elect a new human rights ombudsman after being apparently scolded by President Robert Kocharian for parliament’s unexpected rejection of his candidate for the vacant post.

The three parties making up the parliament majority called an emergency session of the National Assembly which will take place on Friday and may well continue into Saturday.

The assembly began a fresh debate on the issue last week after failing to elect the ombudsman at the first attempt. Presidential adviser Armen Harutiunian, who was nominated by Kocharian and endorsed by the governing coalition, unexpectedly fell short of winning a three-fifths majority required by the constitution.

The debate was scheduled to continue at the next regular parliament session that begins on February 27. The coalition leaders decided to hasten it after meeting with Kocharian late on Tuesday. They said the ombudsman’s election topped the agenda of the meeting.

Kocharian is reportedly frustrated with the coalition’s failure so far to drum up sufficient parliamentary support for his choice of Armenia’s top human rights official. Newspaper reports have said that he feels the Republican, Orinats Yerkir and Dashnaktsutyun parties are not doing their best to install Harutiunian.

The fact that the ombudsman is elected in a secret ballot makes it easy for members of the parliament majority to break ranks and covertly support the candidate put forward by the opposition minority. Besides, the three coalition parties together control 72 parliament seats, seven votes short of the required majority, meaning that they need the backing of other pro-Kocharian factions and independent deputies.

Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the Republican Party, said the majority leaders are holding consultations with their pro-presidential allies and have already secured “certain guarantees” of Harutiunian’s election. “We are trying to do everything to ensure a positive result [of the second vote],” he told RFE/RL.

“I hope the issue will be closed on Friday,” said Dashnaktsutyun’s Armen Rustamian.

But Hrant Khachatrian, Harutiunian’s opposition challenger, claimed that he stands a good chance of winning the vote. “I think I succeeded in creating an atmosphere of trust in myself,” he said, referring to his performance in last week’s parliament debate. “I think nobody fears that I would be biased and not objective. If I get parliament support I will indeed leave the political arena.”

Armenia’s first ombudsperson, Larisa Alaverdian, was relieved her duties on January 5 in accordance with the recently amended constitution. The Armenian authorities’ decision not to seek Alaverdian’s re-appointment is widely attributed to her repeated criticism of their human rights record.
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