By Ruben Meloyan
President Serzh Sarkisian appointed on Wednesday the first 12 members of a new, supposedly broad-based body that will discuss and advise Armenia’s leadership on key challengers facing the country.
Sarkisian had announced his intention to set up a “public council” of representatives of leading political and non-governmental organizations, including those opposed to his administration, as well as prominent public figures in May 2008. He presented the move as a further indication of his eagerness to defuse Armenia’s post-election political crisis through a dialogue with the opposition and other segments of Armenian society.
The Public Council will comprise 36 members, one third of them appointed by the president of the republic. According to Victor Dallakian, an independent parliamentarian and member of a presidential task force that has drawn up the council’s statues approved by Sarkisian on Wednesday, 12 other members will be chosen at “meetings of people involved in various spheres.” He said these 24 members will then decide who should occupy the remaining council seats.
Dallakian told RFE/RL that the council will have “quite serious functions” such as the right to issue statements, organize public discussions of any issues, and present its opinion on bills drafted by the government and debated by parliament. “The head of the Public Council will have the right to address the National Assembly, attend parliament debates and discussions within its committees,” he said.
Armenia’s main opposition groups have repeatedly made clear that they will not name any representatives to what they view as a sham body tasked with legitimizing Sarkisian’s presidency. They say they will be ready to engage in a direct dialogue with the authorities only if the latter release dozens of opposition members and supporters arrested in the wake of the February 2008 presidential election.
Dallakian believes that the council can have a major influence on political processes in the country if it comprises a significant number of individuals ready to publicly criticize government policies. “If the Public Council is made up of truly authoritative individuals it will be able to play an important role in the establishment of civil society in Armenia,” he said.
None of the 12 commission members appointed by Sarkisian is known to be opposed to Armenia’s current leadership. Only two of them, Vazgen Manukian and Khosrov Harutiunian, are political figures. Both men had served as prime ministers in the early 1990s and accepted the legitimacy of Sarkisian’s disputed election victory. Sources told RFE/RL that Manukian is well placed to become the Public Council’s chairman.