Armenian Parliament Approves More Rights for Opposition Minority

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–The Armenian parliament approved on Tuesday a bill giving more agenda-setting and other rights to its opposition minority.

The move comes as a further indication of the Armenian government’s compliance with a resolution on the post-election situation in Armenia adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in April. The resolution says, among other things, that the opposition minority should play a greater role in the legislative process.

"We think that this draft law is one of the first steps aimed at guaranteeing the activities of the political opposition," said David Harutiunian, chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs and the main author of the package of amendmen’s to the parliament statutes.

Under those amendmen’s passed by the National Assembly in the first reading, opposition deputies will be able to force an urgent parliament debate on any issue once in every six months. They have until now been unable to do that without the backing of at least one third of the 131 deputies.

Only 11 deputies are in opposition to Armenia’s leadership.

Another amendment will enable the opposition minority to run at least one of the parliament’s standing committees. However, it will come into effect only after the next parliamentary elections due in 2012.

Even so, the parliament’s pro-government majority indicated its readiness to see an opposition representative chair one of the three new committees to be set up soon. But the opposition made clear that it will turn down the likely offer.

In related news, Parliament on Tuesday also held a second reading of draft legislation that would loosen restrictions placed on public demonstrations passed in the wake of political unrest in Yerevan following Armenia’s presidential elections.

Armenia’s law on demonstrations was amended after post election violence in Armenia resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency and a temporary ban on public protests.

The Speaker of the National Assembly Tigran Torosyan presented changes made to the draft bill since its first reading on May 20 when the National Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favor of the amendmen’s.

The restrictions took the form of amendmen’s to an Armenian law on street gatherings. The National Assembly passed the restrictions on March 17, four days before the end of a state of emergency initiated by then President Robert Kocharian after violent clashes between opposition supporters and police in Yerevan in early March.

The amendmen’s, which expanded police oversight over public, had prompted strong criticism from the international community. A partial or full repeal of the restrictions was a key demand contained in the April PACE resolution

"I’m sure that the changes will not only make the law correspond to European standards, but also have improved provisions as compared to its content before March 17," Torosyan said. "I’m confident that these changes are necessary for the law to correspond to international standards."

He said it is imperative that the National Assembly adopts the provisions, which will effectively reverse the restrictions that empowered law-enforcement authorities to prohibit anti-government demonstrations.

The bill is scheduled for a final vote on Wednesday.

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