Senior lawmakers from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc criticized their opposition colleagues on Thursday for pushing for a parliamentary inquiry into the Armenian authorities’ response to the continuing coronavirus crisis in the country.
The opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) demanded such an inquiry on June 17 after the pro-government majority in the parliament controversially lifted BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian’s immunity from prosecution.
Bright Armenia (LHK), the second opposition party represented in the National Assembly, backed the proposed formation of an ad hoc parliamentary commission on the coronavirus crisis on the condition that it will be headed by a LHK lawmaker. The BHK accepted the condition.
“The government has totally botched the fight against the coronavirus,” charged the LHK’s Gevorg Gorgisian. “The fact that Armenia has one of the worst records in the world … proves that there have been numerous shortcomings.”
Gorgisian claimed that the government’s socioeconomic relief measures have also not served their purpose. “All this must definitely be the subject of an inquiry,” he said.
Alen Simonian, a deputy parliament speaker and senior My Step figure, scoffed at the initiative, calling it “pathetic” and “untimely.”
“The epidemic is not over and God knows when it will end,” he said. “So it is first and foremost too early to make evaluations.”
Simonian also accused the BHK and the LHK of hypocrisy, saying that both parties have demanded the lifting of a ban on rallies imposed by the authorities in March as part of a coronavirus-related state of emergency.
Narek Zeynalian, the chairman of the parliament committee on public health and social affairs, also objected to the opposition initiative. The Armenpress news agency quoted Zeynalian as saying that the parliament commission should be set up only after the end of the pandemic.
Under Armenian law, ad hoc commissions must be set up if that is demanded by at least 33 members of the 132-seat parliament. The BHK and the LHK have submitted 37 signatures to parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan.
Still, the parliament majority can thwart such an inquiry by refusing to formally endorse the commission’s composition. My Step already blocked early this year a parliamentary corruption probe into Yerevan’s pro-government Mayor Hayk Marutian in this fashion.
According to Gorgisian, the parliament will discuss the issue in September, right after the end of its summer recess.
Armenia has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the world, with a total of 26,658 coronavirus cases recorded in the country of about 3 million as of Thursday morning. The official death toll from the disease stood at 459.