Orinats Yerkir Members Follow Baghdasarian Out of Government

YEREVAN (RFE/RL/Armenpress)–The Orinats Yerkir party of outgoing Parliament Speaker Artur Baghdasarian–lost yet another Parliament member to the ruling coalition on Monday. However–several senior government officials affiliated with the party remained loyal to the Baghdasarian–heeding his calls to resign.

Baghdasarian cited growing policy disagreemen’s with Kocharian–and the two other parties in the ruling coalition–the Republican Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation–as he officially announced his resignation and Orinats Yerkir’s withdrawal from the Armenian government on Friday. Baghdasarian stopped short of blaming Kocharian for this month’s defection of a dozen Orinats Yerkir parliamentarians–which precipitated the party’s exit.

According to Prime Minister and Republican Party member Andranik Markarian–Orinats Yerkir’s withdrawal from the coalition was inevitable because of Baghdasarian’s disagreemen’s with the socioeconomic and foreign policies pursued by Armenia’s leadership.

He noted in particular that its repeated deman’s for providing large-scale compensation to Armenia’s who lost their Soviet-era bank savings during the early 1990s "ran counter to the economic policy of our state." He also rejected Baghdasarian’s recent calls for Armenia’s eventual membership in NATO as "unacceptable".

Orinats Yerkir’s faction in the 131-seat legislature was reduced to just nine members after another defection Monday. The latest defector–Mekhak Mkhitarian–issued no explanations–just like the nine other lawmakers that have left Orinats Yerkir since May 5.

So far–all three Armenian ministers that have represented Orinats Yerkir have ignored Baghdasarian’s deman’s to resign–choosing instead to remain in the government. One of them–Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian–was the party’s deputy chairman until last Friday.

Two other prominent Orinats Yerkir figures–Mher Shahgeldian and Gagik Mkheyan–who head the parliament committees on defense and social affairs–announced that they will formally quit with Baghdasarian at the end of this month.

Orinats Yerkir has also had five deputy ministers in the coalition cabinet of President Robert Kocharian. Three of them said on Monday that they remain loyal to Baghdasarian and will comply with his orders.

"On Friday–after Artur Baghdasarian’s news conference–I handed the minister [of labor] a letter to the prime minister asking him to relieve me of my duties," said Artsruni Aghajanian–deputy minister of labor and social affairs. "I am one of those individuals who participated in the party’s creation and don’t find it moral to even consider staying [in the government]."

"I have abandoned the post of deputy minister to stay with my party," said Ara Grigorian–deputy minister of trade and economic development. "I tendered my resignation on Friday."

Similar decisions are understood to have been made by Gagik Aslanian–another Baghdasarian loyalist who has served as deputy minister for local government–as well as at least two regional vice-governors representing Orinats Yerkir.

Party sources claimed that "numerous" other–lower-level Orinats Yerkir officials will follow suit after Baghdasarian formally ceases to be Parliament Speaker. Parliament is expected to accept his resignation without a debate on May 27.

It is still unclear who will replace Baghdasarian as Parliament Speaker. Deputy Speaker Tigran Torosian said Monday that it is early to speak about candidates for the job–adding that the Armenian Parliament still has its speaker who is carrying out his duties.

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