YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Lack of a quorum on Monday prevented final debates in the Armenian parliament on an opposition initiative to lower the crucial energy tariffs after what appeared to be a boycott by its pro-government majority.
Earlier this month–the National Assembly approved in the first reading a roughly 25 percent cut in electricity prices under strong opposition pressure. The move has been condemned by President Robert Kocharian. Government officials say it will call into question the World Bank’s $53 million loan to Armenia’s energy sector–which is in a desperate need of investmen’s. The Bank approved the release of the first $21 million tranche of the concessional loan shortly before the parliament’s preliminary decision. Opposition factions supporting the bill say most Armenian families can not afford the existing fee of 25 drams (5 US cents) per kilowatt/hour.
Several hundred mostly elderly people again gathered outside the parliament building and jostled their way through police cordons to block one of Yerevan’s main streets. The crowd marched to the presidential palace–surrounded by riot police–after being told that the parliament failed to make a quorum. Many pro-government lawmakers voted in the first reading for the tariff reduction–fearful of public anger in the run-up to the parliamentary elections.