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Opposition Set To End Parliament Boycott

By Karine Kalantarian

The Armenian opposition confirmed on Wednesday its reported plans to put a permanent end to its 18-month boycott of parliament dominated by President Robert Kocharian’s supporters.

The more than two dozen deputies representing the Artarutyun bloc and the National Unity Party (AMK) walked out of the National Assembly in February 2004 after its pro-presidential majority refused to consider calling a “referendum of confidence” in Kocharian. The move precipitated a bitter confrontation between the government and the opposition that deepened political polarization in the country.

The Armenian authorities and the Council of Europe have since repeatedly urged the opposition minority to return to the parliament. The two opposition groups suspended the boycott last week to attend parliament debates on constitutional reform not least because it was broadcast live by state television. That gave opposition leaders a rare opportunity to spread their message to TV viewers across Armenia.

“Deputies from the National Unity Party tentatively discussed that issue and after analyzing the results of the extraordinary parliament session arrived at the conclusion that they should return to the National Assembly,” AMK leader Artashes Geghamian told RFE/RL. “Only in that case will the failings of the coalition become obvious to the people.”

Geghamian added that the AMK faction’s decision is likely to be endorsed by the party’s governing board on Saturday and that he and eight other deputies representing it could return to the National Assembly on Monday.

A similar decision is expected to be made by Artarutyun. “The people are asking us to participate in the work of the National Assembly and expose the real face of the regime,” one of its leaders, Victor Dallakian, said after Wednesday’s meeting of the bloc’s governing board.

The end of the boycott continues to be strongly opposed by Hanrapetutyun, the most radical of the nine parties aligned in the bloc. “I personally won’t go to the parliament,” its leader Aram Sarkisian told reporters.

Sarkisian, who has still not attended a single parliament session, against stated that he does not fear being stripped of his mandate by the parliament majority because of absenteeism. “If they are such law-abiding and honest guys, let them expel me,” he said. “I am openly challenging them to expel me. I have no problem with that.”

The outspoken oppositionist also downplayed the decision by several prominent members of his party to leave Hanrapetutyun. The dissenters led by former Yerevan Mayor Albert and former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian cited Sarkisian’s growing pro-Western orientation and readiness to ignore the opinion of other opposition forces.

“The Hanrapetutyun leader is promising a quick democratic revolution but his real actions are having opposite effects,” Harutiunian charged on Tuesday. “We believe that regime change is possible only through the consolidation of the opposition camp.”

Harutiunian, who has a reputation of a pro-Russian politician, also claimed that at least half of the Hanrapetutyun chapters across the country have decided to split from the party. “Those figures are very far from reality,” responded Sarkisian.

Sarkisian claimed that the discord, heavily publicized by pro-Kocharian media, is only helping his party attract new and mostly young members. He said he will outline Hanrapetutyun’s plans at a conference which will take place later this month or early next.

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