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Armenian Parliament To Probe Government’s Response To COVID-19


Armenia -- A healthcare worker clad in protective gear looks after COVID-19 patients at the Surb Grigor Lusavorich Medical Center, Yerevan, June 5, 2020.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc reluctantly accepted on Wednesday opposition demands for a parliamentary inquiry into the Armenian government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The six-month inquiry will be conducted by an ad hoc commission of the National Assembly to be formed in the coming days. Although the commission will be headed by an opposition parliamentarian, most of its members will be named by My Step.

The two parliamentary opposition parties, Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Bright Armenia (LHK), called for the creation of such a body in June as they accused the government of mishandling the coronavirus crisis. Leaders of the parliament’s pro-government majority criticized the move at the time, defending the authorities’ response to the pandemic.

The Armenian parliament statutes enable the majority to block inquiries initiated by minority factions. It can do so by refusing to approve the size and composition of an investigating commission.

Armenia -- A session of the National Assembly, June 24, 2020.
Armenia -- A session of the National Assembly, June 24, 2020.

My Step’s parliamentary leader, Lilit Makunts, made clear that the ruling bloc remains skeptical about the opposition initiative but will go along with it.

“The My Step faction will not impede the creation of the commission and will nominate deputies who will be involved [in the commission’s work,]” said Makunts. “At the same time, we do not think that it will be productive at this stage.”

Consequently, the parliament decided that the commission will have 12 members. It will be headed by the LHK’s Arkady Khachatrian. At least 7 of its members will represent Pashinian’s bloc.

Khachatrian expressed hope that they will act impartially during the probe. “If there is no political will to work effectively, they can very easily obstruct and torpedo one or another decision,” he told journalists. “I hope that the authorities will not follow that path.”

Arusyak Julhakian, one of the My Step deputies who will join the commission, said that while she disagrees with the strong opposition criticism she believes the authorities made some mistakes in their efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. “I think, for example, that the enforcement of the total lockdown [in late March and April] was not very efficient,” she said.

ARMENIA -- A doctor wearing a face mask and protective gear gives a call as she stands next to an ambulance at the Grigor Lusavorich Medical Centre in Yerevan, June 1, 2020
ARMENIA -- A doctor wearing a face mask and protective gear gives a call as she stands next to an ambulance at the Grigor Lusavorich Medical Centre in Yerevan, June 1, 2020

The lockdown was lifted by the government despite a rapidly growing number of coronavirus cases in the country of about 3 million.

The Armenian Ministry of Health has recorded a total of 46,376 cases and 923 deaths caused by COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The daily number of new infections reported by the ministry peaked in June and has shrunk by more than half since then, leading the government to reopen all schools and universities on September 15. Government officials attribute the downward trend people’s and businesses’ greater compliance with anti-epidemic rules.

Wearing face masks in all public spaces -- both indoors and outdoors -- has been mandatory in Armenia since June. The government kept this and other restrictions in place when it lifted a coronavirus-related state of emergency on September 11.

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