By Hovannes ShoghikianThe Artarutyun (Justice) bloc, Armenia’s largest opposition force increasingly beset by internal squabbles, has lost another parliament seat with the defection of one of its deputies who is allegedly seeking to join a major establishment party.
The lawmaker, Tatul Manaserian, confirmed on Tuesday reports that he has decided to leave Artarutyun and its faction in the National Assembly but refused to explain his motives. He provided RFE/RL with a copy of his letter to the bloc’s top leader Stepan Demirchian notifying the latter of the move.
Manaserian complained in the letter about Artarutyun’s increased political “passivity” and “de facto cessation of the active struggle.” “I stand ready to cooperate with you and my colleagues within the framework of legislative and other initiatives aimed at ensuring the country’s progress,” he wrote.
The move followed newspaper reports that Manaserian is seeking membership in the ambitious Prosperous Armenia party of Gagik Tsarukian, a millionaire businessman close to President Robert Kocharian. Although the parliamentarian denied those reports last week, his departure from the opposition bloc will only stoke the speculation.
The “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily quoted on Tuesday an Artarutyun spokeswoman as denouncing Manaserian and demanding that he also resign as parliament deputy. The lawmaker, who lived and worked in the United States in the 1990s, rejected the demand.
Another, more prominent Artarutyun figure, Victor Dallakian, likewise quit the bloc two weeks ago, in a move which is widely seen as a prelude to his affiliation with Prosperous Armenia.
The two defections left Artarutyun in nominal control of only 12 of the 131 National Assembly seats. The bloc holds even fewer seats in practice as at least two members of its faction have fallen out with Demirchian. One of them, Aram Sarkisian, leads the radical opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party which is currently in talks with other opposition groups over the possibility of forming a new anti-government alliance ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.
Demirchian has admitted that his People’s Party of Armenia, the largest of the nine parties aligned in Artarutyun, may well contest the polls on its own.
(Photolur photo: Tatul Manaserian.)