Lawmakers from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) appear to have voted for the new speaker of Armenia’s parliament and one of his deputies handpicked by President Serzh Sarkisian, sparking fresh allegations that the opposition party is secretly collaborating with the government.
The Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, the other opposition group represented in the National Assembly, slammed Dashnaktsutyun on Wednesday after its candidates for the two vacant posts were rejected by the parliament majority.
Stepan Safarian, Zharangutyun’s parliamentary leader, went as far as to claim that Dashnaktsutyun could support Sarkisian, who leads the ruling Republican Party (HHK), in the 2013 presidential election. “I don’t exclude that they will back the HHK’s candidate for the top state post,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Senior HHK members, Samvel Nikoyan and Eduard Sharmazanov, were overwhelmingly elected as speaker and vice-speaker respectively on Tuesday. They easily defeated Zharangutyun candidates who were backed by a handful of fellow deputies, almost all of affiliated with their own party.
Most members of Dashnaktsutyun’s 16-strong faction in the 131-member National Assembly reportedly took part in Tuesday’s secret parliament ballots. They did not deny voting for Nikoyan and Sharmazanov.
The “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily on Wednesday quoted one of the Dashnaktsutyun parliamentarians, Artsvik Minasian, as praising Nikoyan’s “organizational and human skills.” Minasian said the new speaker can ensure “healthy debates and the passage of laws at the National Assembly.”
Minasian also said that Larisa Alaverdian, Zharangutyun’s candidate for the post of speaker, is unfit to lead the legislature dominated by government loyalists.
Alaverdian was scathing about Dashnaktsutyun after the vote, questioning the nationalist party’s opposition credentials. Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, rebutted the verbal attack.
Explaining his party’s stance to Yerkir.am, Rustamian downplayed the “political significance” of the speaker’s election. He said it will have little impact on the work of an assembly that will complete its five-year tenure in May.
Rustamian, who also heads the parliament committee on foreign relations, went on to dismiss Zharangutyun’s decision to challenge the HHK candidates as a publicity stunt. Minasian likewise called it a “purely political show.”
Dashnaktsutyun has faced opposition allegations of secret support for the Sarkisian administration ever since it left Armenia’s governing coalition in 2009 in protest against the president’s policy of rapprochement with Turkey.
The Armenian National Congress (HAK), a more radical and influential opposition force not represented in the current parliament, has been particularly vocal in its criticism of the party. HAK representatives argue that while criticizing government policies Dashnaktsutyun leaders in Armenia have refrained from personally attacking President Sarkisian or demanding his resignation.
Hrant Markarian, the de facto head of Dashnaktsutyun’s top decision-making body, called for “systemic regime change” in Armenia as he opened a party congress in June. A declaration adopted by the congress likewise did not single out Sarkisian for blame.
There have been indications of late that some of the 120-year-old party’s branches in the worldwide Armenian Diaspora disagree with this cautious line. In an extraordinary statement last August, the Dashnaktsutyun chapter in the western United States branded Sarkisian as a “discredited” individual leading a “criminal regime.”
It also accused the Sarkisian government of committing “blatant human rights violations,” controlling the judiciary and sponsoring “oligarchs that continue to relentlessly plunder our people.”