Tensions between the two main members of Armenia’s ruling coalition rose on Tuesday as deputies from the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) demonstratively walked out of the parliament one day after blocking the passage of a major government bill.
The BHK’s 26-strong faction in the 131-member National Assembly announced a one-day boycott of parliament sessions in response to strong criticism from speaker Samvel Nikoyan and other senior lawmakers from President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The statement, which BHK deputy Naira Zohrabian tried to read out before the walkout, cited a “non-constructive atmosphere in the parliament.” Nikoyan cut short Zohrabian’s speech by switching off her microphone.
The row centers on amendments to several economic laws drafted by the government. The most important of them would ban cash transactions among businesses exceeding 3 million drams ($7,770). The government says the measure is important for combating tax evasion.
BHK deputies, whose leader Gagik Tsarukian is one of the country’s richest businesspeople, rejected this explanation. Their decision not to take part in Monday’s parliament vote on the bill scuttled its passage. The development followed months of reported friction between Tsarukian and Sarkisian.
Galust Sahakian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, played down the BHK walkout. “I could do an in-depth political analysis but since we are now heading for [parliamentary] elections we need to introduce tolerance to the political arena and not only for Prosperous Armenia,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“We and our coalition partners will try to understand what the problem is,” he said.
Sahakian also made clear that the HHK will push the bill through parliament without the BHK’s backing if the government again submits it to legislators. “I think that this anti-corruption law, which is also necessary for our international image, will pass if it is brought to the parliament again,” he said.
The HHK faction in the National Assembly officially numbers 63 members and is also backed by about a dozen nominally independent deputies. The presidential party can also count on the backing of eight other parliamentarians affiliated with Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law), the third party represented in the government.