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Jailed Oppositionists Join New Armenian Parliament


Armenia -- The parliament building in Yerevan, January 14, 2019.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) formally registered on Thursday the 107 members of Armenia’s new parliament, among them two arrested opposition figures, which was elected on June 20.

Seventy-one of them represent Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, the official winner of the snap elections. Former President Robert Kocharian’s Hayastan alliance and the Pativ bloc co-headed by former President Serzh Sarkisian and former National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsian will control 29 and 7 parliament seats respectively.

Pashinian congratulated the two opposition forces on entering the National Assembly when he chaired a weekly session of his cabinet earlier in the day. He said he is prepared to work with them in a way that would exclude “hate speech” and insults.

Ishkhan Saghatelian, a senior Hayastan figure, dismissed the statement, pointing to the recent arrests of several local government officials affiliated with the bloc.

The detainees are facing different criminal charges rejected by them as politically motivated. They include the elected heads of four major communities in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province who demanded Pashinian’s resignation shortly after the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Two of them, Mkhitar Zakarian and Artur Sargsian, were elected to the parliament on the Hayastan ticket. It is not yet clear whether law-enforcement authorities must ask the newly elected lawmakers to lift their immunity from prosecution in order to continue holding them in detention.

Another Hayastan parliamentarian, surgeon Armen Charchian, was released from custody on bail on Wednesday. Charchian was arrested last month on charges of pressuring employees of a Yerevan hospital headed by him to participate in the elections. He denies the charges.

“If they [the authorities] think that they can arrest our comrades on trumped-up charges, persecute our supporters and forge a constructive relationship with us, they are madly mistaken,” Saghatelian told reporters. He insisted on the immediate release of the “political prisoners.”

Saghatelian was also dismissive of Pashinian’s stated readiness to abandon his harsh anti-opposition rhetoric.

“His rule is based on deceit, lies and hatred,” said the Kocharian ally. “This is what feeds him. If he gives it up, he will be finished.”

The new parliament is scheduled to hold its inaugural session on August 2. Pashinian’s party has already announced that it will install one of its leading members, Alen Simonian, as parliament speaker.

The ruling party has also designated two of the parliament’s three vice-speakers: Ruben Rubinian and Hakob Arshakian. Both men are affiliated with Civil Contract.

Under Armenian law, the third vice-speaker must represent the opposition minority. Saghatelian said Hayastan hopes to nominate with Pativ Unem a common candidate for the post.

Meanwhile, Kocharian chaired the first meeting of Hayastan’s parliamentary group. It was announced afterwards that the group will be led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian.

The 66-year-old ex-president, who had ruled Armenia from 1998-2008, said earlier this week that he will cede his parliament seat to another Hayastan candidate but remain the bloc’s top leader and continue to challenge Pashinian’s government.

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