YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–Heated debates on privatization in Armenia’s National Assembly turned into a political showdown–Tuesday and Wednesday–as opposition deputies toughened their anti-government rhetoric–using the continuing dispute over some of the recent privatization deals involving foreign investors as a platform for bashing the Kocharian administration. The deadlock created by the debate forced the resignation of Parliament deputy Speaker Albert Bazeyan from resigning his post.
The opposition–ranging from the Communists to center-right groups–said the way the government is implementing the privatization program provides sufficient grounds for its removal from office. Meanwhile pro-government forces in parliament blasted the opposition for instigating internal discord.
Vano Siradeghian–chairman of the former ruling Armenian National Movement–added his voice to the strongest opposition assault yet–alleging that President Robert Kocharian is intent on replacing the current parliament with a rubber stamp legislature. Siradeghian charged that the presidential administration has deliberately provoked the opposition anger to present it as an "anti-market," and "criminal" force that should be kept from influencing the government policy.
He said the National Assembly may be dissolved as soon as next December and pre-term parliamentary elections will be manipulated by "people with money and levers."With a Stepanakert president–there can be nothing more dangerous for the future of our people," flamboyant Siradeghian said–in a harshest personal attack on Kocharian.
The dispute–which primarily centers on the sale to a French company of the famous Yerevan brandy factory. The opposition claims the price of the sale-off–$30 million–was too low and the way the deal was signed went contrary to the Armenian law. It also deman’s that the privatization of the country’s two biggest hotels be annulled for the same reasons.
Armenian Revolutionary Federation deputy Rouben Hakopian blasted the opposition by pointing out that it was during the Levon Ter-Petrosyan regime and ANM rule that most of the national wealth was auctioned off at bargain basemen prices–citing the sale of the Armenia’s winery at $60,000 as an example of such dichotomy–reported the Noyan Tapan news agency.
One of the government opponents–independent deputy David Shahnazarian–told parliament on Tuesday that the voting on the issue will be tantamount to a vote of confidence in the government. Shahnazarian and other opposition deputies said the cabinet has no support base in parliament and urged two key organizations supporting Kocharian to clarify their stance. One of them–the Yerkrapah Union that has the largest faction in parliament has yet to formulate its official position on the issue.
A Yerkrapah deputy–who until recently managed the brandy factory–vigorously defended its takeover by France’s Pernod Ricard. Albert Heroyan–who now serves as governor of the Armavir province–said the French firm has among other things started large-scale purchases of grape from Armenian villagers–paying them in cash on time. He urged colleagues not to "politicize" the issue.
Meanwhile–the mounting tension has fueled fresh speculations about the parliament’s imminent dissolution. Chief of President Kocharian’s staff–Aleksan Harutiunian–hinted last week that the state prosecutors may soon seek prosecution on corruption charges of a number of politicians previously associated with former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan.
Siradeghian–widely suspected by his numerous foes of past criminal acts–accused the authorities of blackmailing the pro-Ter-Petrosyan opposition with veiled threats to lift their immunity. Siradeghian’s–Republic faction–is the second largest in parliament. Debates on the privatization controversy continued on Wednesday.
Albert Bazeyan–a deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament–has resigned today–apparently in opposition to recent privatization deals.
The move came on the third day of the parliament’s emergency sitting called by the opposition to debate the government’s privatization strategy.
Announcing his resignation–Bazeyan blamed the opposition and–implicitly–the cabinet of Prime Minister Armen Darbinian–for the dispute. He said Darbinian’s opponents are keen to cause "political instability"–capitalizing on it ahead of parliamentary elections due next year. He also said the government should have been more transparent in its economic policy. He said "The government’s work style doesn’t inspire trust".
Bazeyan is a leading figure in the parliament’s largest Yerkrapah group–which supports President Kocharian but has yet to formulate an official position on the privatization row.
Kocharian yesterday threatened to take "resolute steps" if the parliamentary opposition succeeds in reversing the sell-offs. The remarks fueled fresh speculations about the parliament’s imminent dissolution. The Armenian constitution sets virtually no restrictions on the president’s right to call fresh parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile–the National Assembly on Wednesday narrowly rejected the opposition’s privatization challenge. The outcome of the voting was effectively decided by Yerkrapah’s refusal to upset the cabinet. The highly emotional three-day session was marred with a series of verbal wrangles between some deputies from hostile camps. Intervention by other deputies averted brawls on the parliament floor.
"The parliament will be dissolved in December," read a headline in "Yerkir." The paper editorialized that any government in the world needed at least "several hundred days" in power to make good on its promises.
But "those ANM gentlemen who tasted the sweetness of power [during the previous regime] are keen to strip the authorities of this possibility. [Look] "who is speaking about the plunder of national property? You who have managed it for eight years–and left almost nothing of it…"
By attacking the government–continued the paper the ANM deputies aim to avoid prosecution on corruption charges–the paper concluded.