Parliament Fails to Elect New Human Rights Defender

YEREVAN (Armenpress/RFE/RL)–In an unexpected setback for President Robert Kocharian and his governing coalition–the National Assembly failed on Wednesday to appoint one of his longtime legal advisers as Armenia’s new human rights ombudsman.

Armen Harutunian received the backing of 69 out of 131 parliament deputies–just ten votes short of the three-fifths majority required by the country’s recently amended constitution. Ruben Torosian–the rival candidate put forward by the opposition minority–got 25 votes.

The results of the secret ballot took leaders of the pro-Kocharian majority and Harutunian by surprise. The latter promptly left the parliament building momen’s before their announcement.

"It is somewhat difficult to comment on the outcome of a secret ballot. Every parliament member has his or her own ideas and each of them voted as they liked," Parliament chairman Arthur Baghdasarian said.

"I wouldn’t say he was defeated as he garnered quite a lot of votes," said Galust Sahakian–the leader of the largest parliament faction representing Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK).

"Some of our deputies [from the majority] were absent today," argued Samvel Balasanian–the parliamentary leader of another governing party–Orinats Yerkir.

Harutunian’s candidacy was officially endorsed by the HHK–Orinats Yerkir–the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the People’s Deputy group of independents. Together they control about 90 parliament seats.

Markarian and parliament majority leaders were meeting later in the day to decide on their next steps. They said before the meeting that they will likely again nominate Harutunian–who has advised Kocharian on constitutional reform and runs a state-run school of public administration–for the job.

Baghdasarian said a signature collection may start Wednesday for the nomination of a new candidate for the vacant job–but he said Armen Harutunian remained the governing coalition’s preferred man.

Levon Mkrtchian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation said Harutunian was the most appropriate candidate for the ruling coalition.

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