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Parliament Majority In U-Turn Over Opposition Bill


Armenia -- Vladimir Vartanian, the chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, speaks during a parliament debate, Yerevan, December 3, 2019.

The pro-government majority in the National Assembly indicated on Tuesday its intention to block an opposition bill which would allow political appointees to run Armenia’s police and National Security Service (NSS).

The Armenian parliament controlled by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc passed the bill in the first reading as recently as in September.

Armenian law requires the heads of the police and NSS chiefs to be high-ranking career officers. Legal amendments drafted by the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK) would remove this requirement.

They stipulate that any Armenian national, who is aged 25 or older and has lived in the country for the last four years, could be appointed to both security posts by the prime minister. The LHK says this would make the police and the NSS more accountable to the public.

The parliament was widely expected to pass the LHK bill in the second reading in late October. However, it failed to do so after last-minute objections voiced by Vladimir Vartanian, the pro-government chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs.

The committee officially spoke out against the changes sought by the LHK on Monday. The decision makes its passage by the full parliament extremely unlikely.

LHK leader Edmon Marukian criticized the parliament majority leaders for the U-turn during a debate on the parliament floor on Tuesday.

“What happened between the first and second readings which made the authorities change their mind?” Marukian asked. He argued that he made changes in the bill which were demanded by Vartanian in October.

Vartanian claimed that the bill contradicts the Armenian constitution and could disrupt the work of the two law-enforcement agencies. “Yes, it is very important that the NSS and the police operate transparently,” he said. “Yes, radical changes there are very important.”

“At the same time we must not create a situation in which we make things worse, instead of making things better, and very serious problems could arise within those [law-enforcement] agencies,” added the senior lawmaker.

Parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan backed Vartanian’s stance.

Incidentally, a deputy chief of the Armenian police, Hovannes Kocharian, was sacked on October 24 for publicly objecting to the LHK bill. A spokesman for Pashinian said he should not have made the “political statement.”

The police and NSS chiefs, Valeri Osipian and Artur Vanetsian, were forced by Pashinian to resign last month for still unclear reasons. Both security agencies have been run by interim heads since then. Pashinian has yet to decide who will manage them on a permanent basis.

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