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Armenian Opposition Party To Continue Parliament Boycott

Raffi Hovannisian, leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party
YEREVAN -- One of the two opposition parties in the Armenian parliament has said it will continue boycotting National Assembly sessions to protest what it says are efforts by President Serzh Sarkisian to tighten his grip on power, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The five parliament deputies representing the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party demonstratively walked out of the 131-member assembly on February 28 following Sarkisian's new power-sharing agreement with his junior coalition partners, the Orinats Yerkir and Prosperous Armenia (BHK) parties.

The agreement commits Orinats Yerkir and the BHK to supporting the incumbent president in the 2013 presidential election. It also states that the two parties as well as Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) will have an even greater representation in the next National Assembly to be elected in May 2012.

Like other major opposition forces, Zharangutyun condemned the provision, saying it effectively predetermines the outcome of the 2012 elections. Its lawmakers have since refused to attend parliament debates and votes.

One of them, Armen Martirosian, told RFE/RL that the boycott will continue indefinitely.

"We have performed all kinds of duties except attending parliament sessions," he said. "We have even attended the government's question-and-answer sessions [in the parliament] and special sessions reserved for statements."

According to Martirosian, Zharangutyun supporters approve of the boycott.

"There is no issue, no work that has been ignored by Zharangutyun deputies during this time," he said.

HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov rejected those remarks.

"Experience shows that boycotts harm those who initiate them," he told RFE/RL. "I don't think it's the best method [of political struggle], especially when it's incomplete."

Speaking at the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg last week, Sarkisian said his government "will spare no effort" to ensure the proper conduct of next year's elections.

"Free and fair elections are not enough. It is also necessary that the elections be perceived as such by the public," he said.