The Armenian government on Wednesday unexpectedly withdrew from parliament a controversial bill which opposition politicians say would make it easier for the authorities to use the army for quelling street protests.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian asked parliament speaker Samvel Nikoyan to remove the draft law regulating introduction of state of emergency from the National Assembly agenda just two weeks after it was passed in the first reading.
Sarkisian’s spokesman, Aram Ananian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the bill will undergo changes before being again sent to the parliament. He declined to comment on those changes.
The bill stipulates that the president of the republic can call a state of emergency in case of an “immediate danger to constitutional order,” including attempts to forcibly seize power, terrorism and “mass disturbances.” It allows the head of state to turn to the armed forces for help if police and other security forces are unable to enforce emergency rule. In that case, military personnel would be allowed to use riot equipment and live ammunition in accordance with an Armenian law on the police.
Opposition groups and the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party in particular have expressed serious concern over the proposed legislation. They claim that the authorities are keen to create more legal grounds for the use of lethal force against the opposition ahead of next May’s parliamentary elections. They say the armed forces should on the contrary be banned from any intervention in political processes.
The government and its loyal majority in the parliament have dismissed the opposition claims.
Armen Martirosian, a Zharangutyun deputy, suggested two reasons for the government’s decision to withdraw the bill. “First of all, the issue of the army’s involvement has had a lot of resonance and even a deputy from the ruling [HHK] party, Rafik Petrosian, was against it because it clearly contradicts our constitution,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Martirosian also pointed out that the bill was passed because several HHK deputies voted in place of their absent colleagues in breach of the National Assembly statutes. The government is now keen to stop its political opponents questioning the legality of the bill’s adoption, he said.
Armenian army units were ordered into central Yerevan on two occasions in the past, most recently in the aftermath of the February 2008 presidential election that saw deadly clashes between security forces and opposition protesters. Ten people were killed and more than 200 others injured on March 1-2, 2008.