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Armenian Opposition Slams Choice Of New Parliament Speaker

Samvel Nikoyan headed a parliament commission that investigated the 2008 postelection violence in Yerevan.
Samvel Nikoyan headed a parliament commission that investigated the 2008 postelection violence in Yerevan.
YEREVAN -- The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) has condemned the upcoming election of Samvel Nikoyan as the new speaker of Armenia's parliament, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

HAK representatives emphasized the fact that Nikoyan -- a senior member of President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party (HHK) -- headed a parliament commission that investigated the 2008 postelection violence in Yerevan and essentially justified the use of deadly force against opposition protesters.

"This is a clear message to our society to the effect that these authorities absolutely do not want to make concessions to the people on any issue," Levon Zurabian, the HAK's central office coordinator, told RFE/RL. "People who were instructed to cover up the March 1 [2008] crime [when demonstrators were killed] and brilliantly accomplished that task are now being rewarded for that."

Gagik Jahangirian, another senior HAK figure, described the choice of Nikoyan as "very logical from the regime's standpoint."

He said that "the regime is rewarding those people who served it till the end during the last elections and during the illegalities committed after those elections," adding that Nikoyan's promotion will serve as an example to other officials ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

In a 138-page report submitted to the National Assembly in September 2009, Nikoyan's commission concluded that the break-up of the February-March 2008 protests, which left 10 people dead, was "by and large legitimate and adequate."

It said there were only isolated instances of excessive force used by security forces.

The Armenian authorities say the violence resulted from an opposition attempt to forcibly seize power. The HAK insists, however, that the authorities deliberately used lethal force to enforce the results of a fraudulent presidential election.

Party-Line Vote

The ruling HHK, which has a solid majority in parliament, nominated Nikoyan to replace the previous speaker, Hovik Abrahamian, at a meeting of its governing board -- which is headed by Sarkisian -- late last week. Abrahamian stepped down for still unclear reasons last month.

The National Assembly is almost certain to elect Nikoyan as its new speaker. The vote is scheduled for December 6.

Addressing fellow lawmakers on December 5, Nikoyan confirmed that he will act as a "support base for the government."

Still, he said government bills submitted to the legislature would be scrutinized before being passed.

In a largely symbolic move, the opposition Heritage party, which has only six seats in the 131-member parliament, nominated one of its deputies, Larisa Alaverdian, for the vacant post.

Heritage leader Raffi Hovannisian said the parliament would remain a rubber-stamp body if it continued to be headed by a government loyalist.

Some pro-government deputies spoke of their sympathy for Alaverdian, while making clear that they would vote for Nikoyan.

"The decision has already been made," Vartan Bostanjian of the coalition Prosperous Armenia party told Alaverdian. "I respect and like you very much. But what can I do? We have to vote for Nikoyan."

Read more in Armenian here and here