YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Representatives of Armenia’s two largest governing parties clashed in the Yerevan municipal assembly on Wednesday in a dispute that could undermine their hitherto close relationship.
Members of the city council representing the Prosperous Armenia Party threatened to relinquish their mandates after its majority controlled by President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party pushed through a legal amendment significantly easing quorum requirements.
Sessions of the 65-member Council of Elders, elected on May 31, have until now had to be attended by at least 33 members in order to be considered valid. The amendment to the council statutes proposed by Yerevan’s Republican Mayor Gagik Beglarian lowered that threshold to 17.
The Prosperous Armenia faction in the council strongly protested against the move. “If we have 65 elected councilors and 50 of them usually attend sessions, then what’s the problem?” its leader Arman Vartanian said. He said the Republican majority may be trying to “reduce the role of the Council of Elders” and warned that his faction may boycott assembly sessions.
Beglarian, who chairs those sessions, dismissed the objections, saying that the amendment stems from a law regulating the council’s activities and cutting short the debate. “We didn’t decide to hold a debate, did we?” he said.
“Mr. Mayor, we are not satisfied by the explanation,” replied Vartanian. “That’s your problem,” shot back Beglarian.
“All this reminds me of the Communist system,” the Prosperous Armenia representative told RFE/RL after the ensuing vote. “A one-party autocratic system. If you have no forum where you can express yourself, then there is no place for a minority faction in such a structure.”
Prosperous Armenia holds 17 seats in the legislature, compared with 35 seats controlled by the Republicans. The remaining 13 seats were allotted to the opposition Armenian National Congress as a result of the disputed municipal elections held on May 31. The Congress refused to take up the mandates in protest against what it called massive vote rigging.
The mayoral race was also marred by several violent clashes between Republican and Prosperous Armenia activists in various parts of the Armenian capital. Both parties played down those incidents, saying that they will continue to share power on the national level.