YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The National Assembly elected Hovik Abrahamian, a key member of Armenia’s leadership, as its new speaker on Monday, in a move engineered by President Serzh Sarkisian and his Republican Party months ago.
Abrahamian’s election became a foregone conclusion early this month when the Republican Party governing body headed by Sarkisian officially confirmed its decision to oust Tigran Torosian, the previous speaker also affiliated with the ruling party. The Republicans have still not clearly explained motives for Torosian’s removal.
Torosian tendered his resignation on September 16, citing unspecified “insurmountable differences” with the Sarkisian administration. It was formally accepted by the government-controlled parliament on Friday.
110 of the 131 members of the assembly voted for Abrahamian’s candidacy. Those included lawmakers from not only the Republican Party but three other parties represented in Sarkisian’s coalition government. One of those parties, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, has been highly critical of Abrahamian in the past.
Sarkisian swiftly congratulated Abrahamian in a message released by his office. “I am confident that your activities in the post of chairman of the National Assembly will be aimed at deepening the ongoing reforms in the Republic of Armenia,” he said.
In his acceptance speech peppered with citations from Abraham Lincoln, Abrahamian thanked Sarkisian for the “trust” and pledged to boost the parliament’s prestige and standing. “The National Assembly must not become a government appendage,” said the former deputy prime minister.
Members of the parliament’s tiny opposition minority countered, however, that Abrahamian’s election only strengthened the parliament’s image of a rubber-stamp body that rarely challenges the executive branch. “The National Assembly has become an exclusive club whose members are busy protecting their parochial interests,” said Larisa Alaverdian, a member of the opposition Zharangutyun faction who also ran for the post of speaker. Alaverdian won only five votes.
Abrahamian, 50, served as chief of Sarkisian’s staff until his victory in an August parliamentary by-election in a constituency in southern Armenia where he and his family have extensive business interests. He took over the presidential administration last April after managing Sarkisian’s presidential election campaign in his capacity as deputy prime minister. He was also the Republican Party’s campaign manager in the May 2007 parliamentary elections.
The Armenian opposition has denounced both elections as fraudulent, saying that Abrahamian was a key architect of serious falsifications which it says allowed the Republican Party and its leader to win the polls. Opposition leaders also frequently depict Abrahamian as a quasi-criminal figure, heavily exploiting his “Muk” (Mouse) nickname.
In a recent newspaper interview designed to polish his controversial image, Abrahamian for the first time publicly explained the nickname’s origin. He said it dates back to his childhood and should therefore not be construed as proof of his alleged underworld connections.