Several lawmakers representing the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) may start sit-ins and hunger strikes in a central Yerevan square if their leader Gagik Tsarukian is stripped of his parliamentary seat, a senior BHK member said on Monday.
The National Assembly leadership on Monday considered kicking the embattled opposition figure out of parliament on the grounds of “chronic absenteeism” following an appeal from President Serzh Sarkisian made late last week.
At a February 12 meeting of senior members of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Sarkisian lashed out at his former coalition partner in a speech full of derogatory descriptions of Tsarukian. He, in particular, described the leader of the second largest parliamentary party as an ignorant and illiterate man and effectively called for his exclusion from the political process.
Tsarukian responded by urging his supporters to stage non-stop rallies to oust the current administration. He implied that the opposition movement launched by him and two other parliamentary minority parties – the Armenian National Congress and Heritage – was one of the key obstacles to Sarkisian’s plans to reform the Constitution to ensure the HHK’s continued dominance in Armenian domestic politics after he is due to leave the president’s office in 2018.
The three parties, known as the trio, said they will hold a joint rally in Yerevan on February 20 as part of their campaign to oust Sarkisian.
Meanwhile, according to BHK lawmaker Vahan Babayan, the Monday meeting of the BHK political council decided that members of the parliamentary faction Naira Zohrabian, Vartan Oskanian and others may start sit-ins and hunger strikes in Yerevan’s Liberty Square if Tsarukian is deprived of his seat in the National Assembly.
Citing a ruling from the Constitutional Court, the HHK majority in the National Assembly said today that the decision to be taken on Tsarukian does not require a debate or a vote by the chamber and that it is rather a ‘legal’ procedure.
Thus, on the grounds of a lawmaker’s absence from most of the parliament meetings the speaker applies to the Central Election Commission that makes a decision on the termination of the lawmaker’s mandate.
In his speech last week President Sarkisian, in particular, stressed that in the period of 2013-2014 Tsarukian, the head of the BHK faction, attended only four of the 145 meetings of the legislative body – an absenteeism rate sufficient for being stripped of the seat.
In his response to Sarkisian’s statement on February 13, Tsarukian, in particular, said that he did not care much about his parliamentary mandate, but considered “people’s trust” to be more important.
Meanwhile, losing a mandate for the BHK leader will also mean losing parliamentary immunity from prosecution. In his speech at the HHK council meeting, President Sarkisian also effectively ordered a probe into long-running “unverified reports” implicating Tsarukian in large-scale tax evasion. He also warned of the possibility of the tycoon’s prosecution for other alleged crimes.
Members of the BHK explain that Tsarukian, who has combined his legislative work with other important state and public activities, such as, for instance, being head of the National Olympic Committee, in the period in question has been absent from most of the parliament sittings for valid reasons as otherwise the norm would have been applied to him at the beginning of the new session earlier this month. The HHK majority, however, insists that there are still legal grounds to press ahead with the procedure.