Parliament Rejects Energy Tariff Reduction

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Following a long battle with the government–the Armenian opposition failed by a few votes in parliament on Tuesday to push through its controversial motion to reduce energy tariffs–vital for many Armenia’s–by one quarter. But opposition factions refused to acknowledge their defeat–accusing the National Assembly’s pro-government leadership breaching the law.

Of 97 deputies attending the session–89 voted for the initiative. Laws in the Armenian parliament are normally adopted by the simple majority of present deputies. But the constitution stipulates that in cases where a bill entails a change in the government’s expenditure or revenues it must be supported by the majority of all 190 lawmakers. Speaker Khosrov Harutiunian ruled that the opposition bill can be considered as such–and therefore required at least 96 votes in favor.

The enraged opposition leaders claimed that the government’s written conclusion has failed to explicitly state that the bill–if passed–will cut its revenues. "The bill has been passed–and if the president does not sign it [into law] we will appeal to the Constitutional Court," Eduard Yegorian–leader of the Hayrenik faction–said.

The bill was discussed in the second and final reading. Last month–96 deputies voted to approve it in the first reading under strong public pressure. President Robert Kocharian has argued against any cuts in energy charges on the grounds that it runs counter to the government’s policy of liberalizing utility prices. The World Bank last month approved the release of a $53 million loan to the Armenian energy sector contingent on price liberalization.

The country’s power grid is to be put for sale later this year–a move which analysts say will inevitably lead to further price hikes. But critics say that most Armenian families cannot afford the existing price of 25 drams (5 US cents) per kilowatt/hour.

With only six weeks before next parliamentary elections–the issue has gained a political dimension. The pro-government Yerkrapah majority in parliament was finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile its loyalty to Kocharian with reluctance to make unpopular decisions. Many Yerkrapah deputies boycotted the crucial vote on Tuesday.

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