- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
February 20, 2004

Measure of Confidence: Opposition steps up pressure for a referendum on Kocharyan's presidency

For three weeks the places of opposition at National Assembly have been empty

A boycott of the National Assembly by deputies from the oppositional Ardarutiun (Justice) and Azgayin Miabanutiun (National Unity) parties has been continuing for nearly three weeks in an effort to force a referendum on the rule of President Robert Kocharyan.

The 25 deputies insist that they will not return to Parliament until the ruling majority confirms that it is prepared to start debates on the adoption of a referendum law.

The majority voted on February 2 against including provisions for a referendum of confidence in the President into a draft law “On Referendum”.

Before the vote, deputies from the Justice and National Unity factions left the hall. The following day the two factions announced their boycott of the Assembly in a joint statement.

“After the disgraceful presidential elections, the Constitutional Court adopted a resolution on April 16, 2003 , which suggested that the newly elected National Assembly and president of the republic pass a law to hold a referendum of confidence within a year. However, the illegitimate president and governmental coalition did nothing to bring that resolution to life,” the statement says.

Victor Dallakyan, secretary of the Justice faction, accuses the governing majority of grossly violating procedural rules in the Assembly by obstructing the opposition initiative to bring a referendum law.

“In this connection, we have boycotted illegal voting and now we refuse to participate in the works of such a Parliament,” he says.

The opposition claims that the “illegal regime has completely failed” both in internal and foreign policy.

Its statement said: “We are united and resolute in restoring the Constitutional order in Armenia and establishing legitimate power. The downfall of the agonizing regime is certain.”

Despite their boycott of proceedings, however, the opposition deputies do not intend to withdraw from their electoral mandates by resigning their seats. They continue to make use of weekly opportunities to make statements in the chamber.

“Mandates are not the point. If it is necessary we can always withdraw from mandates,” says Shavarsh Kocharyan. “But logic, by which the opposition is ruled, says that we still need our mandates. We must reach the point when, under pressure from the people, the majority in Parliament will be ready to venture upon a step connected with the referendum.”

Rafik Petrosyan, head of the National Assembly's Committee on State and Legal Issues, says it is unclear “who is the subject” of the decision passed by the Constitutional Court.

“It remains for us only to guess that the Constitutional Court aimed at the President,” he says. According to Petrosyan, the court should have stated specifically who should be the subject of a referendum of confidence.

Dallakyan dismisses such a comment as “funny”. He says: “It shows that the authorities are in a panic concerning the referendum. The amendment to the law “On Referendum” has already been automatically included in the agenda. We will go with the people and lead them to bring life to the decision of the Constitutional Court .”

Artashes Geghamyan, leader of National Unity, argues that the opposition in Armenia has not thought carefully about its steps, unlike its counterpart in Georgia during the recent successful transfer of power.

“We must agree to a change of power only after careful consideration so that tomorrow we could have a clear conscience,” says Geghamyan. “We know about obvious illegalities but there are terrible hidden crimes which will be revealed, of course, just the next day after the change of power.”

There is a belief that the two oppositional wings, Justice and National Unity, have finally united, although a declaration to this effect has not been made yet.

By its boycott, the opposition intends to signal that a parliamentary crisis has been sparked in the country that will lead to a change in power. The ruling coalition naturally doesn't share this opinion.

“There is no parliamentary crisis in the country for a simple reason: there is a majority, the majority is skilled and that skilled majority continues to carry on legislative activity,” says the head of the parliamentary faction of Dashnaksutyun party Levon Mkrtchyan.

Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan told reporters: “Of course, I would like the opposition to participate in the works of the Parliament, but, they must decide and we have no possibilities to force or influence them, moreover we don't wish to do that. But it would be good if they decided to participate.”

In the interview given on Wednesday to pro-government TV companies President Kocharyan touched upon the opposition boycott.   “Honestly speaking I see no boycott here. What is taking place today is a boycott of obligations,” said the President. “In my judgment it is an attempt to demonstrate that there is an internal policy crisis in Armenia .”   Concerning opposition calls for a change of power, snap elections and consolidation of their forces, Kocharyan stated: “There is no country in the world where consolidation against one person would lead to a good end.   Kocharyan said that authorities would take action if there were violations of the law. He also said the constitutional process offered the only legal way to transfer power and that and he had no intention of resigning.

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Ombudsman Appointed

Ombudsmanship proves to be women's job in South Caucasus. Larisa Alaverdyan, Armenia's first ombudsman, was appointed by President Kocharyan, Thursday, February 19. Armenia is the third country of the region to appoint a woman for this position of human rights protector.



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