By Shakeh Avoyan
The opposition Artarutyun alliance of Stepan Demirchian has lost one of its 15 parliament seats after being legally forced to hand a mandate to a dissenter who was recently expelled from his People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK).
The loss occurred after last week’s death of Sergei Israelian, an Artarutyun deputy elected under the system of proportional representation. Under Armenian law, he is to be replaced by the next person in the bloc’s electoral list. That candidate is Emma Khudabashian, a longtime member of the HZhK who was ousted from the bloc’s largest party several days before Israelian’s death.
Khudabashian publicly criticized Demirchian last month and announced her resignation from his party’s governing board. She attacked opposition actions in the wake of this year’s presidential election, saying that Demirchian let down his supporters by failing to challenge the ruling regime more aggressively.
HZhK leaders rejected the criticism. They say Khudabashian had a grudge against Demirchian after failing to enter parliament immediately after the May 25 elections. They say she was unhappy with her position in Artarutyun’s electoral list and may have cut a secret deal with the authorities.
Under Armenia’s electoral code, a candidate can not be removed from a party list after elections. Some HZhK leaders have stated that it would be unethical for Khudabashian to enter the National Assembly on Demirchian’s ticket just weeks after publicly disagreeing with him.
But she made it clear on Friday that she will not relinquish her mandate. “I have obligations to the people,” she told RFE/RL. “I have held many meetings with the people and heard about their problems and needs. I intend to fight for their rights.”
Khudabashian said she will not join the Artarutyun faction in the 131-member legislature. “The HZhK is not the only opposition force in the National Assembly,” she said. But she would not specify whether she will become a member of the parliament second parliament group, the National Unity Party of Artashes Geghamian. National Unity holds nine seats.
Artarutyun leaders not affiliated with the HZhK avoid openly criticizing the former Demirchian ally. “Mrs. Khudabashian herself must decide her steps,” said Victor Dallakian. “There is little the bloc can do.”
“We consider it an internal HZhK affair,” said Albert Bazeyan of the Hanrapetutyun party. But he added that if the May elections were free and fair, “not only Emma Khudabashian, but also many other Artarutyun candidates would have been in parliament.”
The Demirchian-led bloc refused to accept official results of the vote which international observers said felt short of democratic standards. The overwhelming majority of parliament seats were won by supporters of President Robert Kocharian.