- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 23, 2003 

Parliamentary Elections: Do the chosen ones need protection?

Should a place in one of these chairs come with immunity against prosecution?

Sunday (May 25) Armenians will vote to fill 131 seats in the National Assembly. They will choose among 1,485 candidates, more than 11 per seat.

Profiles of the candidates range from the very rich to the unemployed. They share a common wish, to become lawmakers. And, unless the Constitution is changed, the elected will share a common benefit: immunity from prosecution.

According to the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia:

"A Deputy shall not be prosecuted or held liable for actions arising from the performance of his or her status, or for the expression of his or her opinions expressed in the National Assembly, provided these are not slanderous or defamatory. A Deputy may not be arrested and subjected to administrative or criminal prosecution through judicial proceedings without the consent of the National Assembly."

Whether the next installment of Assembly members will enjoy such protection is at issue in a package of constitutional changes that will appear as a referendum on Sunday's ballot.

Some here see the protection against prosecution as a deserved perk. Others say it is a carte blanches authorization for corruption.

As part of a special publication devoted to the parliamentary elections, media-strengthening programs IREX/ProMedia, conducted a poll asking citizens whether their lawmakers should have immunity from punishment if they broke those very laws.

Yerevan attorney Susanna Mailyan, says Parliamentary immunity gives a chance for deputies to "expand their illegal activities, sheltered by a deputy's mandate".

Out of 135 Yerevan residents participating in the poll, 85 (62 percent) agreed with Mailyan.

Yerevan State University law student Armen Siranosyan, 25, called Parliament a place for those who, instead of making laws can sit and expand their illegal activities.

Sixty-three year old pensioner Gagik Poghosyan is among the 38 percent who believe deputies should get special privileges.

"They are chosen representatives of the people aren't they," he says.

Which is the same argument some make as to why deputies should not have immunity.

"A deputy is a chosen representative of the people," said Vanadzor resident Albina Martirosyan. "He is on level with the people, thereafter he must be vested with as much immunity as the people have."

Martirosyan's hometown was one of five regional cities in which 249 residents were polled, out of which 166 (66 percent) opposed immunity.

Fifty seven year old Meruzhan Sargsyan, 57, said: "For acting freely and naturally it's necessary to have immunity but not for growing rich."

Among those in the minority opinion were eight who responded that "deputies know best what they need."

Out of 21 political parties seeking seats in the National Assembly only "Orinats Yerkir" (Country of Law) political party advocates abolishing the immunity clause in its campaign platform.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation has already presented a bill to the Assembly that would abolish immunity, however, it was voted down.

Ramkavar Azatakan (Democratic Liberal) party representative Harutyun Arakelyan says deputies should have immunity only outside Armenia, while the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party says immunity is essential for deputies to freely express themselves.

"Hzor Hairenik" (Mighty Motherland) political party is against immunity and suggests instead a law protecting deputies from political persecution.

Maria Minasyan, 19, will be voting for the first time Sunday. She is in favor of something in between immunity and liability.

"Let them be privileged for four years but after that they can be deservedly punished," she suggests.

According to Agnes
  Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.


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