By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian faced on Wednesday embarrassing accusations of forgery from two former election candidates of his Orinats Yerkir Party who claim to have been illegally denied seats in Armenia’s parliament.
Orinats Yerkir, which was in opposition to the country’s leadership until recently, is represented in the National Assembly by Baghdasarian and seven other party members. All of them were elected under the system of proportional representation by virtue of occupying the top eight places in the party’s national list of candidates.
Two of those seats became vacant on Monday when Orinats Yerkir deputies Gurgen Sargsian and Mher Shahgeldian were appointed as ministers of transport and emergency situations respectively in line with Baghdasarian’s power-sharing agreement with President Serzh Sarkisian. Under Armenian law, the seats must be given to individuals holding the next two spots on the Orinats Yerkir list.
However, only one of the two persons nominated by the Orinats Yerkir to fill the vacancies was next in line for a parliament mandate. The other, Artsruni Aghajanian, was only 16th on the list drawn up ahead of the May 2007 parliamentary elections. The party leadership says Aghajanian was picked because the five Orinats Yerkir candidates whose names were higher on the party slate have renounced potential parliament mandates in separate letters to the Central Election Commission (CEC) sent since last summer.
According to the CEC secretary, Abram Bakhchagulian, one of those candidates, Gegham Gasparian, now claims that his signature in the letter was forged and that he never withdrew from the parliament reserve list. Bakhchagulian said a similar claim has been made by another former candidate, Victoria Harutiunian, who also purportedly renounced a parliament seat. Harutiunian was 17th on the Orinats Yerkir list and could have been the next in line for another parliament vacancy which will arise from Baghdasarian’s impending appointment as secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council.
The CEC decided to register Aghajanian as a parliament deputy, citing a legal provision that obligates it to fill vacant party-list seats in the National Assembly within seven days. But it said at the same time that it will ask the Office of the Prosecutor-General to investigate the forgery allegations. The CEC chairman, Garegin Azarian, told RFE/RL that Aghajanian’s mandate will be revoked if they prove to be true.
A spokeswoman for Orinats Yerkir, Susann Abrahamian, rejected the allegations and insisted that the earlier letters carrying the two ex-candidates’ signatures are authentic. “Until now they did not dispute the legality of their withdrawal,” Abrahamian said, accusing them of trying to illegally “clinch mandates” after Orinats Yerkir’s return to the governing coalition.