The Armenian parliament decided on Wednesday to form an ad hoc commission that will investigate controversial aspects of natural gas supplies to the country that have sparked opposition attacks on the government in recent weeks.
Two of the opposition factions in the National Assembly looked to set to join the inquiry despite strongly criticizing serious curbs on its mandate put by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The HHK’s parliamentary leaders unexpectedly proposed the creation of the commission last week after rejecting a similar proposal made by the opposition minority. The four opposition parties represented in the parliament wanted to look into the Armenian government’s recent dealings with the Gazprom monopoly and its broader handling of gas supplies from Russia.
They all had strongly condemned the government for ceding its remaining 20 percent in the national gas distribution network to Gazprom and granting the latter 30-year exclusive rights in the Armenian energy market in a payment for its recently disclosed $300 million debt to the Russian gas giant. The government incurred the debt as a result of secretly subsidizing the increased price of Russian gas from 2011-2013.
The gas deal was signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s December visit to Armenia. The opposition considers its subsequent ratification by the Armenian parliament null and void because of what it calls serious procedural violations.
A decision pushed through the parliament by the HHK majority on Wednesday makes clear that the commission will not investigate the controversial deal. Also, the commission, in which the pro-government majority and the opposition will be equally represented, will hold meetings only behind closed doors.
The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun (Heritage) parties condemned these restrictions and threatened to boycott the panel during two-day debates held on the parliament floor this week. The HAK’s parliamentary leader, Levon Zurabian, claimed on Tuesday that the main mission of the HHK-backed panel is to “bury the truth.”
“We are not experts on burying or covering up things,” countered parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian. He and other majority leaders also rejected Zharangutyun calls for the commission to be headed by an opposition lawmaker.
Lyudmila Sargsian, another HAK deputy, said her faction will appoint one of its members to the commission after all. Zharangutyun, for its part, did not immediately decide whether to participate in the inquiry. “If all other opposition parties participate, so will we,” Tevan Poghosian, a Zharangutyun deputy, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).