On Agenda: Armenian lawmakers again focus on emergency rule law

On Agenda: Armenian lawmakers again focus on emergency rule law

Photo: www.parliament.am

The Armenian parliament that has only one session to go before its term expires in early May has been trying hard to pass the emergency law in its final version. If adopted, the law would legitimize the use of the army in enforcing public peace.

This legislation is advocated by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), which enjoys a majority in the outgoing parliament. But many members of this party’s faction traditionally do not attend parliament meetings.

On March 20, Parliament Speaker Samvel Nikoyan was unable to put the bill to a vote because there weren’t enough members of his party in the chamber for its passage. The speaker said the bill would be voted on the next day.

The draft legislation was narrowly passed in its first reading on March 1 (with 67 members of the 131-seat body voting for it, and one voting against).

Before the first reading vote, the two parliamentary minority parties, ARF Dashnaktsutyun and Heritage, as well as the extra-parliamentary Armenian National Congress, an alliance of nearly two dozen opposition parties and groups, held a picket in front of the National Assembly building, demanding that the lawmakers refuse to pass the controversial piece of legislation envisaging that, in certain cases, the army could be employed for dispersing public rallies and demonstrations.

The RPA did ensure the majority for passing the bill on March 21, but questions linger in society about why the party needs a law that has drawn so much criticism. The RPA does not bring forward any arguments in favor of passing the law. Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, who is also a senior member of the ruling party, only referred to the approval from the Venice Commission. And Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasyan, who also joined the RPA recently, said such matters are better regulated by law than left to individuals’ discretion.

On Tuesday, ARF faction leader Vahan Hovhannisyan called on the lawmakers to reconsider their position. “It is all too clear that it is a bad law. Why push it through?” he queried in the chamber.

Earlier, one of the veteran RPA members Rafik Petrosyan spoke against passing the law. “It is unacceptable that any political force should use troops to defend its own interests,” he said, claiming that one of the provisions of the proposed legislation runs counter to the Constitution.

Opposition parties already claim that the RPA is getting prepared for post-election rallies and a possible use of the military. Authorities already used the army in public order policing on the night of March 1-2, 2008 when the then president, Robert Kocharyan, introduced a state of emergency in Yerevan to quell street protests and demonstrations against the official results of the presidential election. Ten people, including two security personnel, were killed in the clashes that night. The government then did that without any law on the emergency rule.

Therefore, experts assume that the Republican attempts to pass the law are rather related to external pressure. In particular, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led defense pact of six former Soviet states, including Armenia, recently developed a mechanism for the participation of its Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) in operations during emergencies in member countries. According to the revised CSTO documents, if a member country asks the organization to introduce its RRF, no consent of all members of the defense alliance will be required for that any longer.

Three years ago the CSTO was unable to intervene in the internal conflict in Kyrgyzstan, because some of its members opposed that move. Now, this obstacle, in fact, has been eliminated.