By Armen Zakarian
After a series of heated debates the Armenian parliament approved late on Wednesday a controversial government initiative giving its speaker sweeping powers to punish unruly deputies.
The move, which took the form of amendments in the parliament’s statutes, is aimed at preventing further protests by opposition lawmakers who have been demanding a debate on the possibility of impeaching President Robert Kocharian. The National Assembly was left paralyzed for three consecutive days last month after several of them occupied its podium in protest against speaker Armen Khachatrian’s refusal to include the issue on the parliament agenda.
Khachatrian will now be able to order police into the parliament hall to enforce order there. Deputies defying his orders could be barred from entering the parliament building for up to six days.
The original version of the government bill called for the maximum punishment to be set at 15 days. It was slightly watered down after meeting strong resistance from many deputies, including those who support Kocharian.
The government had little difficulty pushing the changes through the parliament on Wednesday.
The opposition minority has condemned the sanctions, saying that they are unconstitutional and aimed at stifling dissent in the legislature dominated by Kocharian’s supporters. Opposition deputies who blocked debate last month say they will stage more such protests at the start of the parliament’s regular autumn session next September.