By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian parliament gave Friday its final approval to new government terms for the privatization of energy distribution networks after the government dropped a legislative provision allowing their future owners to buy sizeable chunks of the country’s power generating facilities.
In an effort to make the networks more attractive to foreign investors, the government earlier proposed to abolish a clause stipulating that the owner of a distribution network can not have more than 25 percent of any Armenian power plant. It agreed to keep the restriction after objections voiced by parliament deputies.
A new bill, specifically drafted for the upcoming privatization of the four power utilities, was narrowly passed in the second, final reading. The vote was followed by an acrimonious row, with opponents of the legislation accusing their pro-government colleagues and some cabinet members present at the session of voting for absent deputies.
The chairman of the parliament committee on science and education, Shavarsh Kocharian, condemned the vote as “illegal.” Another senior parliamentarian, Vahan Hovannisian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), backed the charge.
The session was also marred with a brawl between two deputies, with Justice Minister David Harutiunian stepping in to prevent them throwing punches.
The government plans to go ahead with the sale of the state-run eletrcitity companies were condemned at an opposition rally in Yerevan later in the day. Several thousand people took part in the demonstration organized by opposition parties represented in the National Assembly. It was originally intended to be a manifestation of public protest against the rise in telephone charges which the ArmenTel telecoms operator plans to introduce starting next September.
Opposition speakers used the occasion to call for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian.