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Armenian Opposition Party Sees Backlash After Challenging President

Heritage party founder Raffi Hovannisian (left) and the party's parliamentary leader Armen Martirosian (right).
Heritage party founder Raffi Hovannisian (left) and the party's parliamentary leader Armen Martirosian (right).
YEREVAN -- An Armenian parliamentary opposition leader has spoken of a "negative atmosphere" surrounding his party following a harsh response from President Serzh Sarkisian to criticism of electoral practices in Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Armen Martirosian, the head of the Heritage party's faction in parliament, described his recent row with pro-establishment lawmakers as the latest proof of a government backlash in the wake of what the Heritage party views as scornful remarks against its founder, Raffi Hovannisian.

Last week Martirosian had separate arguments with the acting speaker of parliament, Samvel Nikoyan, and another member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Arakel Movsisian, over the speaking order and the interruption of speakers.

The Heritage deputy was first challenged by Nikoyan over his turn to ask a question during a traditional Wednesday question-and-answer session with government officials. In the dispute the acting speaker suggested, in a rude manner, that Martirosian be more attentive to his calls and to "clean his ears."

Another argument ensued when Martirosian, speaking from the parliamentary rostrum, demanded quiet in the chamber to proceed with his remarks addressed to the government. His words drew an angry reaction from parliament -- which is dominated by pro-government lawmakers -- with one HHK deputy calling Martirosian "a cow" and demanding that he "keep it short."

In an interview with RFE/RL on December 2, Martirosian said the attacks from pro-government counterparts fit into the general pattern of attitudes that emerged after Sarkisian accused Hovannisian of "besmirching and damaging" what he called the ongoing electoral reforms in the country.

Harsh Assessment Of Opposition Proposals

Speaking to reporters on November 26, Sarkisian made a harsh assessment of more than a dozen suggestions from Hovannisian on how to raise the standard of holding elections that the opposition party leader had earlier laid out in a formal letter addressed to the head of state.

In particular, Sarkisian said the Heritage party leader's letter was designed "to compromise the process that is already under way."

The Heritage party responded by calling Sarkisian's statement "a partisan and nationally unworthy incursion" against Hovannisian personally, the party, as well as Armenia's opposition and public.

Meanwhile, HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov said on December 2 that the party did not discuss the behavior of its lawmakers -- and the parliament incidents in general -- at the previous night's meeting of its executive body.

Instead, the HHK decided to nominate Nikoyan as its candidate to stay in the post permanently until the end of the legislature's term in May.

Sharmazanov, who himself was named as a candidate to fill the post of deputy speaker to be vacated by Nikoyan, called such incidents "unpleasant" but emphasized that "not everything in life turns out to be pleasant."

"I don't think that was such a big issue to be discussed [at the party's meeting]. A parliament is a political body where one speaks and the other replies," he told RFE/RL. "Look at what takes place in European parliaments!"