By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Orinats Yerkir Party of parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian has lost its status as Armenia’s second largest parliamentary force after the apparently government-orchestrated defection of four of its 19 lawmakers.
The defections come as another indication of Baghdasarian’s growing estrangement from the Armenian leadership which seems to have been incensed by his calls for Armenia’s eventual accession to NATO and has reportedly decided to hit back hard. Sources close to the government say the Orinats Yerkir faction in the National Assembly will shrink further in the coming days.
The four deputies, all of them wealthy businessmen dependent on government connections, left the faction on Friday and at the weekend without issuing an explanation. Only one of them, Melik Manukian, has agreed to comment on the move so far.
“I am a deputy who was elected from an individual constituency and am therefore more independent than deputies elected on the party list basis,” Melikian told RFE/RL on Monday.
“I continue to respect Artur Baghdasarian. I just quit the faction to act like an independent deputy. I have no problem with the faction,” he said .
Bother Manukian and the three other defectors have not joined any other political party yet. Newspaper reports have said that several other government businessmen that remain affiliated with Baghdasarian’s party will follow their example very soon.
According to the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, the Orinats Yerkir faction will number only 10 deputies by the end of this month. A source in Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) predicted that the 37-year-old speaker will be left with even fewer parliament seats.
The People’s Deputy group of independent lawmakers loyal to President Robert Kocharian controls 16 seats and has thus become the second largest force in Armenia’s 131-member legislature after the HHK. Orinats Yerkir, which came in second in the last parliamentary election and is represented in the government with three ministers, is also dangerously close to falling behind the opposition Artarutyun alliance which holds 14 seats.
The looming collapse of its parliament faction is widely linked to Baghdasarian’s recent interview with a leading German newspaper in which said that “Armenia’s future is the European Union and NATO.” Both Kocharian and leaders of the two other parties represented in his cabinet have disavowed the remarks, saying that they do not reflect official’s Yerevan’s position. Baghdasarian, however, effectively stood by his statements last week, threatening to pull Orinats Yerkir out of the governing coalition.
Local observers believe that the defections were part of retaliatory steps taken by the Kocharian administration. “Orinats Yerkir is being told that any deviation from the official line is inadmissible,” the “Azg” daily wrote on Saturday. Another paper, “168 Zham,” suggested that Baghdasarian also risks losing the post of parliament speaker.
(Photolur photo: Artur Baghdasarian.)