Karabakh Parliament Rebuffs President Over Power Shift

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)–In an unprecedented gesture of defiance–the parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh has refused to allow President Arkady Ghoukassian to assume duties of prime minister–clouding the prospects for a quick settlement of the ongoing political crisis in that republic.

The National Assembly of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Tuesday overwhelmingly voted down a motion by Ghoukassian that would have allowed him to combine the duties of president and prime minister. With none of the parliament committees approving the proposed change in Karabakh legislation–the majority of deputies argued that the measure would "disrupt the balance" among the three government branches and favor the executive.

Ghoukassian’s proposals–that also include establishment of the post of deputy prime minister–were designed as a way out of the grave government crisis that has resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Leonard Petrossian. Several cabinet members led by the defense minister–Lieutenant-General Samvel Babayan–have been at odds with Petrossian in the past few weeks–saying that he has been unable to achieve economic improvement.

Some deputies of the parliament–which has so far kept a low profile in Karabakh politics–used unusually strong terms referring both to the proposed changes and Ghoukassian personally. Murad Petrossian (not related to Leonard)–the outspoken chairman of the defense and security committee and a figure close to the defense minister–argued that Ghoukassian’s performance record since taking office last September has been unimpressive–and therefore it makes no sense to place a further "burden" upon him.

Some speculations have said Babayan’s ambitions for the post of prime minister have been behind the crisis. But Babayan denied the charge last week–claiming that he will not impose his will on the republic’s leadership. At the same time–he noted that he will not remain "indifferent" to the composition of the cabinet and threatened to step down if no sufficient staff changes are made. Babayan’s position on the presidential initiative remains unknown.

Meanwhile–in his Tuesday speech Murad Petrossian implicated the leadership of Armenia in the crisis. Addressing the parliament–he said–"We should not participate in political games organized by Armenia’s leadership and aimed at weakening and ultimately ruling out any influence by Nagorno-Karabakh on the Armenian foreign policy." He did not elaborate though. Armenian President Robert Kocharian–who comes from Karabakh–assured reporters last week that the stalemate will soon be overcome.

It is still unclear how President Ghoukassian will react to the rejection of his initiative. One of his representatives warned the deputies of "undesirable consequences."

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