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Armenian Parliament Speaker Under Pressure To Step Down

Tigran Torosian: on the way out?
Tigran Torosian: on the way out?
In a move that analysts believe heralds an intensification of the rivalry between President Serzh Sarkisian and his predecessor Robert Kocharian, the Republican Party (HHK) is seeking to oust parliament speaker Tigran Torosian and replace him with a longtime Kocharian loyalist, Hovik Abrahamian.

Torosian has sought doggedly over the past two years to strengthen the parliament as an institution. Elevating Abrahamian, who was elected to the present parliament only three weeks ago and has little relevant experience, to the post of speaker would call into question Armenia's commitment -- already damaged by the March 1-2 post-presidential-election crackdown -- to European democratic values.

Meeting on September 6, the executive body of the HHK, which controls 65 of the 131 parliament mandates, concluded that it is "inexpedient" for Torosian to continue to occupy the post of parliament speaker that he has held since the dismissal of Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) party Chairman Artur Baghdasarian in June 2006, Noyan Tapan reported on September 8.

On September 9, HHK Deputy Chairman Razmik Zohrabian warned that Torosian will face a vote of no confidence by fellow lawmakers unless he bows to the board's decision and steps down, which he has previously stated he would not do.

Also on September 6, the HHK board named Abrahamian as its preferred candidate to succeed Torosian as speaker. Abrahamian was elected to parliament on August 24 in a by-election in a single-mandate constituency in southern Armenia that has long been widely regarded as part of the Abrahamian family's personal fiefdom. That seat was obligingly vacated by Abrahamian's brother Henrik.

Hovik Abrahamian, 50, was first elected to parliament in 1995. From 1996-98 he was mayor of the town of Artashat and from 1998-2000, governor of the eponymous province.

During Kocharian's 10-year tenure as president, Abrahamian served from 2001-08 as the minister responsible for local government (the name of that ministry was changed several times over that period). In April 2005, he was named a member of the presidential Security Council, and in June 2007 he was simultaneously appointed a deputy prime minister.

He headed the HHK campaign staff during the parliamentary elections in May 2007, and Sarkisian's campaign staff in the presidential ballot in February 2008. Sarkisian named Abrahamian in April to head his presidential staff, and dismissed him from that post on September 6.

Rumors of Torosian's impending removal as parliament speaker in order to free up the position for Abrahamian first surfaced three months ago. At that time, both men rejected them, with Torosian affirming on June 9 that he had no plans to resign and would not accept any alternative position outside parliament.

Media reports on September 8 claimed Torosian still refuses to quit voluntarily. Speaking to journalists later that day, however, he was less categorical, saying only that he will make a formal statement after a September 16 session of the HHK's governing council.