The opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) called on Wednesday for a parliamentary inquiry into the authorities’ response to the continuing coronavirus epidemic in the country.
Senior BHK lawmakers announced the initiative as they boycotted a session of the Armenian parliament in protest against its decision on Tuesday to allow the arrest and prosecution of the party’s leader, Gagik Tsarukian. He is facing accusations of vote buying rejected by him as politically motivated.
The BHK, which holds 26 seats in the 132-member National Assembly, needs the backing of another parliamentary opposition party, Bright Armenia (LHK), in order to be able to force the creation of an ad hoc parliamentary commission on the coronavirus crisis.
LHK leader Edmon Marukian said his party is ready to join the BHK initiative. “We will back the idea of an investigating commission on the condition that the commission is headed by a representative of the LHK,” said Marukian. He argued that his party was the first to float the idea.
Tsarukian’s party also urged the LHK to join it in asking the Constitutional Court to rule whether a government ban on rallies is legal. The ban stems from a coronavirus-related state of emergency in Armenia.
Marukian also questioned the ban, saying that Armenians can safely hold street gatherings if they wear face masks and observe physical distancing. Still, he said opposition lawmakers should have the issue discussed in the parliament before appealing to the Constitutional Court.
Meanwhile, one of the leaders of the parliament’s pro-government majority, Alen Simonian, said he has no problem with the BHK initiatives.
“I personally find these two initiatives excellent,” said Simonian. “If that commission is formed we will also be able to investigate rumors spread by groups close the party mentioned by you (BHK), rumors that the coronavirus does not exist.”
The BHK, the LHK and other opposition forces have been very critical of the authorities’ handling of the coronavirus crisis, holding them responsible for the large number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his allies reject the criticism.
The Armenian Ministry of Health said on Wednesday morning that 544 people tested positive for the virus in the past 24 hours, bringing to 18,033 the total number of confirmed cases in the country of about 3 million.
The ministry also reported 9 more deaths primarily caused by COVID-19. The official death toll thus reached 302.
The figure does not include the deaths of 99 other people infected with the disease. The health authorities say other, pre-existing conditions were the main causes of these fatalities.