Karabakh ARF Opposes Speaker Election

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The re-election of Oleg Yesayan as speaker of Nagorno-Karabakh’s parliament ended in scandal late Wednesday as the local branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation–the main opposition force in the newly elected legislature–boycotted voting–saying it was manipulated by the pro-government majority.

The nine ARF deputies walked out of the 33-strong assembly on the grounds that the secrecy of the ballot was not guaranteed–something which they said left no chances to their candidate for the post of speaker.

"Finding unacceptable the conduct of the election through the breach of the law and democratic norms and remaining committed to its principal positions–the ARF faction of the parliament announced that its participation in the voting…would be meaningless," the faction said in a statement from Stepanakert.

Yesayan–who is an ally of Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukassian–garnered 22 votes to lead the disputed enclave’s new parliament. Seven out of nine non-partisan deputies chose to vote for him–in a clear sign that the government in Stepanakert will continue to exercise control of the legislature. Ghoukassian’s Democratic Artsakh Union won 13 seats in the June 18 elections and needs their support to push its initiatives through the parliament.

The drastic reaction from ARF may put the relationship between the pan-Armenian nationalist party and official Stepanakert on a confrontational course. The party is increasingly emerging as the main political opponent of Ghoukassian after the prosecution on coup charges of his most bitter foe–former Karabakh army commander Samvel Babayan.

While avoiding strongly-worded attacks on the authorities–ARF candidates campaigned on a largely opposition platform in the run-up to the June elections–which the party viewed as an opportunity to restore the clout it had enjoyed in Karabakh in the early 1990s.

Deputies from ARF accused the Democratic Artsakh Union of "abusing the fact of being the parliamentary majority" and imposing a voting procedure that did not allow lawmakers to make a free choice. The statement claimed that the deputies were not alone in voting cabins while they cast their ballots.

But a spokesman for the Democratic Artsakh Union denied any pressure on the independent members of the parliament. The opposition boycott led to the postponement of its Thursday sitting.

A source in the assembly told RFE/RL that speaker Yesayan and his loyalists have–in the meantime–begun negotiations with the ARF on the distribution of other posts in the parliament. The ARF faction claims the leadership of three (foreign relations–defense and economics) out of six standing committees–while the pro-government camp is ready to give up no more than two committees–the source said.

The parliament will turn to the election of a deputy speaker and committee chairpersons when it resumes its work on Monday.

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