By Astghik Bedevian
The Orinats Yerkir Party of Armenia’s former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian has suffered yet another defection from its faction in the National Assembly, which already shrunk by more than half last year.
Gagik Mkheyan, a parliament deputy from Orinats Yerkir, confirmed on Tuesday reports that he has decided to leave the party due to disagreements with its young and ambitious leader. “I have handed in my resignation to Artur Baghdasarian,” he told RFE/RL.
The move reduced to eight the number of seats in the 131-strong assembly controlled by Baghdasarian’s party. As recently as one year ago, Orinats Yerkir boasted 21 parliamentarians, giving it the second largest parliament faction. Most of them defected from the faction last April, precipitating Orinats Yerkir’s forced withdrawal from the governing coalition. Virtually all of the defectors were wealthy businessmen dependent on government connections.
Mkheyan, who was also a deputy chairman of Orinats Yerkir, refused to give any reasons for the move. “I don’t find it appropriate to talk about the reasons at this point,” he said.
Mkheyan also did not comment on rumors that his resignation came in response to government threats to force a construction company reportedly owned by him out of business. The company is building luxury housing in central Yerevan.
The remaining Orinats Yerkir lawmakers would not confirm or deny the rumors. One of them, Hovannes Markarian, suggested that Mkheyan quit mainly because he knew he will not be included on the list of the party’s candidates for the May parliamentary elections.
Baghdasarian has repeatedly accused the Armenian authorities of harassing many of his loyalists since Orinats Yerkir’s exit from the coalition. The authorities have dismissed the claims.
(Photolur photo: Orinats Yerkir deputies pictured during a parliament session in 2006.)