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By Astghik Bedevian
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and his loyalists challenged on Tuesday the integrity of recent years’ privatization deals cut by the government, sparking a fresh dispute between Armenia’s two largest governing parties.

The row broke out during a parliamentary discussion of a government report on the privatization of state enterprises from 2001 through 2004. In a clear attack on Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), deputies representing Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party charged that the process violated Armenian law.

“Agreements under which this property has been alienated and privatized are null and void from the legal standpoint,” said Hovannes Markarian, a senior Orinats Yerkir lawmaker. “They also can not be acceptable for its real owners, the people.”

Baghdasarian endorsed the criticism, saying that 48 of 69 state enterprises included on the government’s 2001-2004 privatization were sold off without any competitive tenders. He said that the government, in which his party is represented with three ministers, has also illegally privatized educational and scientific institutions.

The allegations were picked up by opposition parliamentarians. “The combined value of the privatized assets was estimated at about 5 billion drams, and yet they were actually privatized for a total of 976 million drams,” argued one of them, Victor Dallakian.

Dallakian claimed that the huge disparity is the result of government “bribery and nepotism.” “Let those government representatives who tell fairy tales about fighting against corruption, both in this chamber and on various TV channels, look into this process,” he said.

Karine Kirakosian, the head of the government’s Department on State Property Management and an HHK loyalist, denied any wrongdoing. “The [privatization] program had been brought to the National Assembly and approved by yourself,” she told lawmakers. “The government has nothing to do with it.”

“Privatization is the most controllable process in our state,” claimed Galust Sahakian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader. “Parties or politicians close to the government pyramid are forgetting that the government is a coalition one,” Sahakian said in an apparent reference to Orinats Yerkir.

The HHK and Orinats Yerkir as well as the third coalition party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, have frequently bickered among each other ever since joining President Robert Kocharian’s government about three years ago. The squabbles regularly fuel speculation about the imminent collapse of the ruling coalition. The leaders of the three pro-Kocharian announced in early February that they will continue to work together, pledging not to publicly embarrass each until next year’s parliamentary election.

(Photolur photo: Orinats Yerkir deputies attending a parliament session.)
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