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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Leaders of the pro-government majority in the National Assembly rejected on Friday opposition calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the Armenian authorities’ extremely controversial conduct of the last national elections and the November constitutional referendum.

Lawmakers from the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance have for months been pushing for the creation of two ad hoc commissions that would investigate serious irregularities reported during the two votes. The motion was at last discussed by the parliament committee on legal affairs.

Galust Sahakian, a committee member and the parliamentary leader of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), indicated that it will not be even included on the parliament agenda. “We are against the creation of such commissions and will vote against the proposal during the full parliament sitting [next week],” he said.

The committee chairman, Rafik Petrosian, was of the same opinion. He argued in particular that the proposed inquiry could cast shadow over the legitimacy of Western-backed amendments to Armenia’s constitution that were enacted following the referendum. The National Assembly has already passed a dozen laws stemming from those amendments, he said.

But Artarutyun’s Victor Dallakian countered that the commissions would not so much look into the hotly disputed official vote results as try to identify election officials guilty of serious fraud reported by domestic and international observers. He said that is key to ensuring that the Armenian elections are more democratic.

The opposition motion was backed by representatives of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party that was removed from the governing coalition last month. But with the vast majority of lawmakers loyal to President Robert Kocharian, it is unlikely to reach the parliament floor.

The 2003 elections, which gave Kocharian a second term in office and a loyal parliament, were criticized as undemocratic by Western observers. They also cast doubt on the credibility of the official results of the November referendum that showed a record-high voter turnout despite unusually deserted polling stations. The Armenian opposition maintains that the referendum was rigged, a charge denied by the authorities.

While deploring the reported fraud, Western powers and the Council of Europe have welcomed the passage of the constitutional amendments which they believe will foster Armenia’s democratization. Artarutyun leader Stepan Demirchian and other opposition deputies objected to this argument as they met with a visiting team of officials from the Council of Europe’s governing Committee of Ministers monitoring Yerevan’s compliance with its membership obligations.

“We don’t need reforms at such a cost,” Demirchian told RFE/RL after the meeting. “They know very well how the constitutional referendum was handled. We noted, for our part, that it is important to not just pass laws but also put them into practice.”

(Photolur photo: Galust Sahakian.)
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