By Astghik Bedevian, Ruzanna Khachatrian and Anna Saghabalian
The fourth National Assembly of independent Armenia began its first session on Thursday with a collective oath of allegiance to Armenia’s constitution.
The 131-member legislative body was greeted by President Robert Kocharian, as well as Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, who gave his blessing to the newly elected parliament and said a prayer.
The ceremonial part was followed by the election of parliament leadership in the absence of opposition lawmakers, including elected deputies from ex-parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir and ex-foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian-led Heritage party.
Hovannisian explained that the first session of the fourth National Assembly was to have taken place the previous day pursuant to the Constitution. He said that his Heritage party had not received, in a manner reflective of the rule of law, due notice of that session or any invitation.
Besides, he said, Heritage found it impossible to be present at any parliament session until the Constitutional Court decided on the validity of the parliamentary elections.
Both Heritage and Orinats Yerkir have not yet collected their parliamentary mandates at the Central Election Commission. Orinats Yerkir’s Hovannes Markarian said their party is also waiting for the Court’s ruling due before June 10, but said they will pick their mandates no matter what the final verdict is. “People trusted us in the ballot and the mandates are a vote of public confidence,” he explained.
Before the afternoon break, the sole nominee for the Speaker’s post, Tigran Torosian, was installed in his former position due to the overwhelming backing of his Republican Party (HHK) and its partners, Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which effectively sealed a power-sharing deal the previous day.
Deputies voted in a secret ballot by 112 to 2 to allow Torosian to continue as parliament speaker, the post he has occupied since the resignation of Orinats Yerkir leader Artur Baghdasarian about a year ago.
The deputies also overwhelmingly appointed BHK’s Ishkhan Zakarian and Dashnaktsutyun’s Vahan Hovannisian as deputy speakers.
The two coalition partners, HHK and BHK, as well as Dashnaktsutyun that had sealed cooperation with them, shared between themselves leadership posts in all the standing parliamentary committees.
The HHK will have leadership in five of the nine committees, including the committee on education, science and culture, the committee on finance and crediting, the committee on state and legal issues (to be headed by ex-justice minister David Harutiunian), the committee on economic issues (headed by former environment minister Vartan Ayvazian) and the committee on health, environment protection and social issues.
The BHK will lead the committees on human rights protection and public affairs and on European integration. And Dashnaktsutyun will lead the foreign relations and defense committees.
Also today, President Robert Kocharian accepted the resignation of the government, instructing its current members to continue in office until the formation of the new cabinet. By another decree he appointed Serzh Sarkisian Armenia’s prime minister.
By the Armenian constitution, a new government must be formed within 20 days after the appointment of the prime minister and it will have 20 days to submit its program of action to the National Assembly for approval.
Under the coalition agreement between the HHK and the BHK and their cooperation deal with Dashnaktsutyun, the president will have the prerogative of naming and recalling the ministers of foreign affairs, justice and defense. Dashnaktsutyun will have the same rights in two ministries, including agriculture and education; the BHK will have its ministers of health, urban development, youth and sport (a ministry separated from the former ministry of culture). The HHK will have its say in all the rest ministries.