By Astghik Bedevian
The Armenian parliament on Monday adopted in the second reading a controversial bill that upholds the government’s powers to confiscate real property and give it to private developers by citing ‘state and public needs’.
The government-proposed legislation was passed with 67 votes to none, with only three abstentions.
The draft law is supposed to regulate continuing demolitions of old parts of central Yerevan that has been the scene of a massive redevelopment in recent years. They have sparked angry protests by scores of people who have been evicted from their now demolished homes and claim to have not been properly compensated by the state.
The Armenian constitution stipulates that private property can be taken away by the state “only in exceptional cases involving overriding public interests, in a manner defined by law, and with a prior commensurate compensation.” However, the process has so far been regulated only by government directives. Armenia’s Constitutional Court effectively declared it illegal in April, but stopped short of ordering the authorities to return the increasingly expensive land to their former owners.
As the lawmakers took the vote several dozen residents evicted from their homes gathered near the National Assembly building to show their attitude. Their protest passed in heavy police presence. Police surrounded demonstrators not to allow them to approach passing deputies.
“We have only one wish – to meet deputies elected by people and talk to them. After all, we have elected them,” one protestor said.
Opposition deputies who have consistently opposed the passage of the bill were welcomed with applause. Those who voted for the bill drew a different reaction, with people scanning: “Shame on you!”
Many pro-government deputies decided to enter the parliament from the backdoor. Some of them were accompanied by eight or nine bodyguards.
Among the parties that opted out of the vote today were Orinats Yerkir, the Artarutyun alliance and National Unity. The parties and groups that upheld the legislation included the Republican Party of Armenia, the United Labor Party, the People’s Deputy parliamentary group and businessmen’s groups. The Dashnak votes proved decisive in the vote. All of the party’s deputies had abstained during the previous vote on the bill. Only three of them did so this time around.
The bill is still to pass a third reading and is already on the agenda of the four-day session.