By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian parliament failed to make a quorum on Monday to debate proposals on partly restoring the population’s devaluated Soviet-era cash savings after President Robert Kocharian rejected them as “populist.”
Kocharian had to formally schedule the debate after receiving a petition signed by 66 of the 131 members of the National Assembly. However, only 44 deputies showed up for the emergency session, forcing speaker Artur Baghdasarian to call it off. Most of them are affiliated with Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party and the opposition minority.
The debate’s cancellation became a forgone conclusion after Kocharian made his position public at the weekend. Visiting the northern Lori region, he said he believes the effort spearheaded by independent lawmaker Hmayak Hovannisian is aimed at spreading discord between Orinats Yerkir and the two other parties represented in his government.
“I am convinced that the sitting will not take place,” one of Baghdasarian’s two deputies, Tigran Torosian, told RFE/RL on Saturday.
The coalition partners are divided on the issue, with the Republican Party (HHK) of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) arguing that the state has no money to compensate those Armenians who lost their bank deposits during the hyperinflation of the early 1990s. Their leaders appear to have reached a compromise agreement at a meeting with Kocharian late on Friday.
“The issue was discussed by the coalition,” Baghdasarian said. “The president will set up an ad hoc commission in February and I think serious research will be carried out.”
Baghdasarian, whose party made the issue a key theme of its 2003 election campaign, insisted that savings compensation is feasible. “If we are increasing our state budget by 43 billion drams ($90 million) in 2005, then I think it is possible to channel 2 billion drams each year into solving this issue.”
Opposition deputies who suspended their ten-month boycott of parliament sessions to attend the planned debate dismissed Kocharian’s pledge. “I treat such statements by Kocharian with humor,” said Viktor Dallakian of the Artarutyun alliance. “We are deeply convinced that the creation of such a commission is aimed at dragging out a solution to the issue.”
Hovannisian, meanwhile, blamed Kocharian for the lack of quorum in an assembly overwhelmingly loyal to the head of state. “I regret that in our country the principle of separation of powers does not work and the decisions of the National Assembly are predetermined by the president and his staff,” he said.
Hovannisian again denied speculation that his initiative was secretly encouraged by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian in a bid to discredit both Baghdasarian and Markarian. He said he is not even aware of Sarkisian’s position on the matter.
“I neither meet Serzh Sarkisian nor have an opportunity to clarify his opinion,” he said. “Nor do I find that necessary.”
One of two bills that would have been discussed by the parliament was sponsored by Orinats Yerkir. It calls for $83 million to be set aside for deposit compensation during the next few years. Orinats Yerkir leaders have argued that the government could foot part of the bill with proceeds from the $130 million sale of Armenia’s largest metallurgical complex to a German-led consortium formalized last week.
The other bill, drafted by Dallakian, would also tap privatization revenues for that purpose.