Two senior members of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) formerly led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian faced serious disciplinary action on Wednesday after refusing to back President Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional changes.
Elinar Vartanian and Stepan Markarian were among five members of the BHK’s parliamentary faction, the second largest in the National Assembly, who declined to vote for those changes on Monday despite their official endorsement by their party’s leadership.
The faction announced on Wednesday that Vartanian and Markarian will be recalled from Armenian parliamentary delegations at various international bodies, where they have represented the BHK. BHK representatives said they may also be sacked as chairpersons of the Armenian parliament committees on human rights and local self-government respectively.
Vahan Babayan, the BHK spokesman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the party’s governing board will meet in the coming days to also discuss the possibility of terminating Vartanian’s membership in the BHK. He said her ouster has been recommended by a BHK chapter in Yerevan.
Naira Zohrabian, the BHK chairwoman, claimed that Vartanian and Markarian are being punished for their “inactivity in the party and its faction,” rather than their stance on the constitutional reform. “There is no problem of the constitution,” she said.
Still, Babayan noted that the two dissenting lawmakers had no right to go against the BHK’s decision to back the reform.
As recently as in February, the BHK was fiercely opposed to the constitutional changes, threatening to topple Sarkisian with street protests if he went ahead with his plans to turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic. Sarkisian responded by ordering a government crackdown on Tsarukian and his businesses, which led the tycoon to resign as BHK leader and leave politics altogether. The BHK has since effectively stopped challenging the president despite claiming to be in opposition to his administration.
Both BHK dissenters reaffirmed on Wednesday their strong objections to the radical changes sought by Sarkisian. “The constitutional changes is not what the society demands now,” said Vartanian. “Very different issues are now at the center of public attention.”
Markarian, Vartanian, former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and the two other BHK deputies who boycotted Monday’s parliament vote are widely regarded as loyalists of former President Robert Kocharian. The latter on Tuesday again spoke out against the constitutional changes, saying that they would have “extremely dangerous consequences” for Armenia.