By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The pro-presidential majority in the Armenian parliament staged on Monday a de facto boycott of its regular session in what is widely seen as an attempt to deny the opposition an important avenue of expression ahead of this month’s presidential election.
For the first time in Armenia’s history the National Assembly did not make a quorum to resume its work after a one-month winter recess. Only 46 out of the 131 deputies, mainly affiliated with opposition factions, showed up.
“There is no quorum, and the sitting will not take place,” the assembly’s deputy speaker, Gagik Aslanian, declared three hours after the scheduled start of debates.
The opposition lawmakers accused the largest Miasnutyun faction and other parliamentary groups supporting President Robert Kocharian of cutting a secret deal to scuttle the proceedings. “The Miasnutyun bloc led by you is deliberately boycotting the spring session of the parliament,” Arshak Sadoyan, an outspoken opposition deputy, told Aslanian.
Another oppositionist, Manuk Gasparian, claimed that the pro-Kocharian majority has decided to block debate until after the February 19 elections. Gasparian argued that with the parliament unable to convene, the state-run Armenian Public Television will not have to broadcast the deputies’ weekly statements and questions addressed to the government.
The opposition has always used that opportunity to attack Kocharian and the government.
Only a handful of Miasnutyun deputies arrived at the parliament’s main auditorium. The faction’s leader, Galust Sahakian, rebutted the opposition allegations, but gave no clear explanation for the absence of his colleagues. Another Miasnutyun member, Victor Dallakian, deplored the mass absenteeism, while insisting that it does not amount to concerted boycott.
The ongoing election campaign has also coincided with the interruption of the long-running trial of five jailed gunmen that stormed the Armenian parliament in October 1999. The court proceedings were postponed indefinitely more than three weeks ago, ostensibly due to the presiding judge Samvel Uzunian’s illness.
But some local media see political motives for the delay, suggesting that Kocharian wants to avoid more negative publicity resulting from lingering questions about his possible role in the parliament attack.