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Armenia: Parliament Elects Demirchian As Speaker

Yerevan, 10 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - The newly formed Armenian parliament today elected Karen Demirchian, the country's long-time Soviet-era leader, as its speaker

Demirchian won support from 110 deputies in the 131-seat National Assembly, indicating he has substantial influence in parliament.

Demirchian and Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian are the leaders of the Miasnutyun (Unity) alliance that won the May 30 parliamentary elections. The bloc controls the majority of seats in the Assembly.

Demirchian's popularity, resulting from widespread public disillusionment with economic reforms, was key to Miasnutyun's success. The bloc will likely be given most ministerial posts in the new Armenian government, with Sarkisian set to become prime minister. President Robert Kocharian is expected to name him premier no later than tomorrow.

Demirchian told fellow deputies he will strive to "substantially increase" parliament's role in policy-making. He called for a greater oversight of the executive's activities, which he said should be "more transparent."

The 67-year-old Demirchian headed the Armenian Communist party from 1974 to 1988, a period of relative prosperity for Armenians. Many of them have been impoverished by the collapse of the Soviet command economy.

Miasnutyun campaigned with a centrist and often populist message, pledging state support for stagnating industry and more social spending. But senior World Bank officials who met the bloc's leaders last week said the new Armenian cabinet is likely to press on with the reforms.

Addressing the Assembly today, President Kocharian said there can be "no alternative" to political and economic reform. He also said he expects "close cooperation" between the two government branches.

The Demirchian-led parliament may be a major counterweight to President Kocharian's power. The former Communist boss was Kocharian's main challenger in last year's presidential election and still refuses to recognize his defeat.

Miasnutyun is unlikely to face strong opposition from other factions in parliament. At least 65 lawmakers are either officially or unofficially affiliated with the bloc. Most of the 26 ostensibly independent deputies are believed to be loyal to the powerful defense minister.

With only 10 deputies, Armenia's Communist Party has the second-biggest faction.

Two nationalist groups, the Dashnaktsutyun party and Right and Accord bloc, have eight deputies each. Dashnaktsutyun is Kocharian's key ally.

The opposition National Democratic Union (AZhM) of former prime minister Vazgen Manukian won only six seats.