By Ruzanna Stepanian
A leading member of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) accused its junior coalition partners Friday of dodging responsibility for a controversial government bill that could have effectively banned RFE/RL broadcasts in Armenia.
Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian charged that the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) deliberately kept most of their deputies from taking part in a final parliament vote on the draft amendments to the laws on broadcasting and state duties.
The 131-member National Assembly lacked a single vote to make a quorum and pass the amendments in the final reading on July 3. The 40 or so BHK and Dashnaktsutyun lawmakers had overwhelmingly voted for them in the first reading a few days earlier. But only a handful of them turned up for the second-reading vote.
Both parties loyal to President Robert Kocharian have still not clearly explained the reasons for this. Their leaders have only denied speculation that they sought to discredit Sarkisian’s party in the eyes of Armenian civic groups and Western governments strongly opposed to the proposed changes.
“We must draw serious conclusions from that because partnership can not be based on such behavior,” Torosian said, accusing Dashnaktsutyun and the BHK of breaching terms of their power-sharing agreement with the HHK.
“There must be clarity. An agreement is an agreement. A coalition is a coalition. All agreements reached [by the partners] must be respected,” he told a news conference.
Torosian also condemned the HHK partners’ stance as hypocritical, saying that none of them supports continued retransmission of RFE/RL’s Armenian-language programs by state radio. “I must say that there are no grounds whatsoever to think that those who were absent [from the parliament vote] wanted Radio Liberty to continue its broadcasts, while those present [at the vote] were against that,” he said.
Torosian pointed in that regard to statements on the issue made by Dashnaktsutyun leaders. One of them, Hrant Markarian, said last week the fact that Armenian Public Radio re-broadcasts foreign news programs is deeply offensive to his “national dignity.”
Meanwhile, the future of RFE/RL broadcasts, which still hangs in the balance despite the collapse of the government bill, was high on the agenda of a meeting on Thursday between Sarkisian and Rudolf Perina, the newly appointed U.S. charge d’affaires in Armenia. Sarkisian was quoted by his press office as assuring Perina that his government is not intent on restricting or banning those broadcasts.