Republican Party of Armenia boycotts special session in National Assembly, possibly driving opposition parties closer together.

“We need to put aside our narrow party and personal interests, consolidate and with a united agenda – and, why not, with a single candidate – contest the presidential election,” said Vartan Oskanian, former Foreign Minister and a leading Member of Parliament with the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), to a crowd of supporters that had gathered outside the Armenian parliamentary buildings on Wednesday 21 November.

The participants had gathered in support of the initiative presented by the Armenian National Congress (ANC) to hold a special session to discuss possible amendments to the electoral code in Armenia, namely the eligibility criteria to vote in the upcoming Presidential elections in February 2013. The ANC hoped to debate restricting voter eligibility to those citizens that reside in the country, specifically requiring voters to live in Armenia for the six months prior to the election. The opposition parties say this amendment would help curb fraud in next year’s presidential election.

Special sessions in parliament can be called if one third of the members agree to participate. However, in order for the session to proceed, quorum, which is 66 out of the 133 members, must be met. Only 44 legislators showed up to the special session, the remaining lawmakers, who come from the governing coalition parties, Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and its junior partner Orinats Yerkir, boycotted the session.

ANC and PAP leaders met protestors in front of the National Assembly building and read out a list of names of those lawmakers who did not show up for the special session. Though it was Oskanian from the PAP who addressed the crowd, rally goers appeared to be principally ANC supporters, according to reports from armenianow.com. “Non-establishment political forces are forming common approaches towards our future plans. And I’d like to hope that, indeed, during the next week we will be able to form a common political agenda,” said Oskanian. The crowd responded by chanting “Levon! Levon!” in an apparent reference to their desire to see former President and ANC party leader, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, run as the single candidate fielded by the opposition. However, the party leadership remains quiet on the issue. It is clear that talks are in process and that both of the major political forces outside of the ruling coalition are conducting consultations with their party bases.

Levon Zurabyan, parliamentary leader for the ANC, confirmed that while “consultations are in progress,” he feels “there is no point in speaking about any positions in advance.”

The PAP for its part has consistently suggested it would like to see party leader, businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, run for the country’s top position. Tsarukyan came out this week saying he had made up his mind as to whether he would run or not for president – but he refused to reveal his decision. “Naturally, such key decisions are not made at the last moment,” explained the PAP leader. “Furthermore, I have already made my own decision. But since the electoral law still allows me not to publicize it, I’m going to use this opportunity,” said Tsarukyan. Tsarukyan added that before he announced his decision he wanted to take advantage of this time to consult both with the party base and partner parties. However, his statement would tend to point towards his desire to run in the race rather than rally from the sidelines. “It is not about my individual issues and will never be. I am not pursuing any personal interest. As an individual I can solve all my personal issues this way or another. But I can see a collapsing country, emigrating people, suffocating injustice, total corruption, growing destitution. And I cannot remain indifferent to all that. This is my only issue,” said Tsarukyan.

It remains to be seen, however, whether ANC supporters would throw their weight behind the PAP leader and also where the smaller opposition parties, Heritage and Armenian Revolutionary Federation, fit into this picture. The Heritage Party, for example, has presented its leader Raffi Hovanissian as its Presidential candidate. The governing RPA, for its part, is unconcerned about the potential unity of the opposition forces, stating that the opposition, as in the past, will be unlikely to field a single candidate. Several political commentators in Armenia feel the same way and are unsure if the opposition could unite behind the leadership of Tsarukyan.

Armenianow.org reports that among the missing legislators from the RPA on Wednesday were also seven PAP lawmakers, including Tsarukyan, begging some opposition supporters to question if the PAP leadership is truly behind the push for change in Armenia. Nonetheless, the governing RPA-dominated coalition appears to be pushing the other parliamentary parties closer together. If the RPA continues to boycott or dismiss the actions of the other parties it might make bedfellows out of them after all, providing the necessary impetus to rally against the government that the ANC and PAP need to work together for next year’s presidential race.

Report prepared for CEW by Karina Gould