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Armenian PM, Speaker Meet To Ease Tensions


Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (R) and Parliament Speaker Ara Babloyan.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and parliament speaker Ara Babloyan reportedly agreed on Monday to defuse political tensions in Armenia following bitter recriminations traded by the country’s current and former leaders.

The two men met one week after Babloyan expressed serious concern over Pashinian’s far-reaching statements made at an August 17 rally in Yerevan.

Addressing tens of thousands of supporters, the premier accused Armenian judges of acting on orders issued by the former government and threatened to create “bodies of transitional justice.” He also announced plans to push through the parliament constitutional amendments that would facilitate the conduct of fresh parliamentary elections. He told his supporters to be ready to press lawmakers to enact those changes.

Senior representatives of former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) reacted furiously to Pashinian’s speech, accusing him of stifling dissent, blackmailing the Armenian parliament and seeking to control the judiciary.

Babloyan, who is also affiliated with the HHK, similarly accused Pashinian of subjecting the parliament to “pressure and coercion.” “Prime Minister Pashinian’s speech at the rally contained extremely dangerous messages to the constitutional order,” he said in an August 20 statement.

The speaker added that he will discuss his “deep concerns” with Pashinian, President Armen Sarkissian as well as other Armenian officials and foreign diplomats based in Yerevan. Pashinian expressed readiness to meet him.

Babloyan’s office said that the two men reached a number of understandings at their meeting. In particular, it said, they agreed that everyone in Armenia should enjoy “freedom of speech and dissent,” that judicial independence “must not be undermined,” and that any elements of transitional justice must conform to the Armenian constitution. It was also agreed that any amendments to the Armenian constitution should be enacted as a result of “broad-based political discussions,” said the office.

The Armenian government did not issue any press releases on the meeting.

President Sarkissian welcomed the “agreements” reached at the premier’s talks with the speaker later in the day. “The president hopes that we will see positive results very soon,” read a statement by the presidential press service.

Hakob Badalian, a Yerevan-based political analyst, believes that Pashinian’s tough speech was a response to the political comeback of Robert Kocharian, another former president who is facing criminal charges stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. Kocharian made the announcement on August 16. HHK representatives have not ruled out the possibility of cooperating with him.

Badalian suggested that the HHK and Pashinian agreed to “restore the status quo” that existed until their latest war of words. “I think the statement [by Babloyan’s office] implies that there is no need for transitional justice, that the parliamentary elections will be held as planned and that the former government is not reneging on its pledges,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

The policy program of Pashinian’s cabinet, reluctantly approved by the HHK-controlled parliament in June, calls for the holding of snap parliamentary elections within a year. Under the existing constitution, such polls can be held only if the prime minister resigns and the National Assembly twice fails to elect his or her replacement.

In his August 17 speech, Pashinian warned of the possibility of the HHK and other parliamentary forces installing another prime minister in case of his resignation. He said his political team will therefore draft constitutional amendments that would allow the parliament to dissolve itself. But speaking to journalists on August 22, Pashinian said that this is only “one of the scenarios” considered by his government.

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