Businessman Samvel Balasanian was elected by 74 votes to 6 in place of Arevik Petrosian, a fellow BHK member who resigned last month under pressure from the party’s leader, Gagik Tsarukian.
Tsarukian confirmed reports that he forced Petrosian to quit because he felt that she did not provide sufficient support to the BHK in that capacity. “Nobody in Armenia knew that Arevik Petrosian represents the Prosperous Armenia Party,” he said during a rare appearance in the parliament. “She should have carried the party lapel pin on her chest and spoken about our programs and initiatives on behalf of the party.”
Petrosian, 38, failed to mention the BHK by name in her resignation speech in the National Assembly earlier this week. She told RFE/RL’s Armenian service afterwards that “the parliament podium is not the right place for raising party issues.”
Tsarukian was clearly irked by the remark. “If you can’t raise political issues, then what’s the point of having a parliament in the first place?” the influential tycoon told journalists. He made clear that Petrosian, who previously served as deputy minister of justice, remains a “teammate” and will not be expelled from his party.
Balasanian, who owns one of Armenia’s three main beer companies, joined the BHK six months ago and became its deputy chairman shortly afterwards. The 55-year-old rose to prominence in the late 1990s as a senior member of Orinats Yerkir, another party represented in President Serzh Sarkisian’s coalition government. He led the party’s faction in the Armenian parliament from 2003-2007.
Balasanian quit Orinats Yerkir shortly after its leader, Artur Baghdasarian, fell out with former President Robert Kocharian and moved his party into opposition. Baghdasarian’s party returned to government following the February 2008 presidential election.
Orinats Yerkir deputies pointedly declined to take part in the news vice-speaker’s election. The vote was also boycotted by the parliamentary faction of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.