By Ruben MeloyanThe only opposition party represented in Armenia’s parliament decided at the weekend not to give up its National Assembly seats in protest against the government’s perceived failure to address the country’s lingering political crisis.
The Zharangutyun (Heritage) party had earlier threatened to boycott parliament sessions and even surrender its mandates if the Armenian authorities fail to release dozens of arrested opposition members and engage in dialogue with the opposition.
Zharangutyun’s governing Council said after a meeting on Saturday that there are still dozens of “political prisoners” in Armenia and that the authorities continue to stage “political trials” of opposition members arrested following the March 1 clashes in Yerevan. But it said the party’s exit from the National Assembly at this juncture would deprive the Armenian opposition of a key avenue of asserting its views and let down thousands of Armenians who voted for Zharangutyun in the May 2007 parliamentary elections.
In a written statement, the Zharangutyun leadership also argued that its continued presence in the National Assembly will keep one of the nine seats in various-level electoral commissions under opposition control. “At the same time, the Council reserves the right to revisit the issue if a surrender of the mandates becomes the last possibility of establishing rule of law and ensuring real reforms in the Republic of Armenia,” it added.
According to Armen Martirosian, the leader of the Zharangutyun faction in parliament, some members of the Council favored a parliament exit, arguing that the party holds only seven parliament seats and can not push any bills through the 131-member legislature. Martirosian said he and other party leaders countered that Zharangutyun deputies have managed to add important amendments to some government-backed bills.
Zharangutyun endorsed former President Levon Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election and strongly condemned the bloody suppression of his post-election demonstrations in Yerevan. It also denounced the ensuing mass arrests and trials of Ter-Petrosian supporters.