By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Astghik Bedevian
Artur Baghdasarian signaled on Thursday his intention to resign as speaker of Armenia’s parliament and pull his Orinats Yerkir party out of the governing coalition as its parliamentary faction continued to shrink under apparent government pressure.
Three more wealthy lawmakers defected from Orinats Yerkir late Wednesday and early Thursday, reducing to 11 the number of parliament seats controlled by Baghdasarian. His party had 20 seats as recently as last month, boasting the second largest faction in the 131-member National Assembly.
The wave of defections, which began last week, is reportedly part of President Robert Kocharian’s efforts to force Orinats Yerkir out of the ruling coalition. Government sources have said Kocharian has lost patience with its 37-year-old leader’s regular and embarrassing attacks on his cabinet.
According to Heghine Bisharian, a senior Orinats Yerkir lawmaker who remains loyal to Baghdasarian, the party’s continued presence in government is becoming meaningless in such circumstances. “I personally am in favor of his resignation and our departure from the coalition,” she told a news conference.
“The entire Orinats Yerkir Party is of the same opinion,” said Bisharian. Asked whether Baghdasarian shares that opinion, she replied: “I think he will.”
Baghdasarian, who has been seen in the past as one of Kocharian’s possible handpicked successors, has declined to publicly comment on the situation.
Bisharian found it “a bit too early to speculate” about the possibility of Orinats Yerkir joining the opposition ranks but made no secret of its critical assessment of the state of affairs in Armenia. “Go to the regions, enter villages and look at their plight. You’ll see whether the [government] policies of the last 10-15 years have changed anything in our life,” she said, echoing statements regularly made by opposition leaders.
Bisharian also downplayed the damage inflicted on her party by the defections. “Orinats Yerkir has more than 62,000 members and I think the departure of a dozen of them won’t make any difference for the party,” she claimed.
All of the defectors are wealthy businessmen with close government connections, a necessary condition for engaging in large-scale economic activity in Armenia. Yet another Orinats Yerkir deputy, Tigran Yeganian, was expected to follow their example later on Thursday. Yeganian, 28, is the youngest member of the National Assembly. His father is the owner of a big and expensive restaurant near Yerevan which is popular with senior government officials.
Bisharian stopped short of explicitly blaming the defections on Kocharian. But she did deplore the strong dependence of Armenian businessmen on the government. “Regardless of whether a businessman is a member of Orinats Yerkir, a Republican or a Dashnak, they are facing this danger [of losing their assets],” she said. “This could happen to any political force and businessman.”
(Photolur photo: Oritanst Yerkir deputies attending a parliament session.)