Opposition members of the Armenian parliament do not think that after Ishkhan Zakaryan’s re-election as chairman of the Control Chamber this key body will be able to work independently, even though the independence of this state body is ensured by law.
The opposition’s skepticism has its roots in a number of episodes from Zakaryan’s first six-year term as Control Chamber head that are well known to the general public.
The most mentioned story in the National Assembly these days has been the consultations hosted by President Serzh Sargsyan in June during which the head of state castigated Zakaryan over his 2012 report and for his statement made from the National Assembly podium, calling them “wrong and short-sighted”. What drew Sargsyan’s wrath was Zakaryan’s assumption that up to 70 percent of the state budget funds were at risk of misuse and misappropriation by state officials.
Considering that controversial report, President Sargsyan advised that Zakaryan remain balanced in his expressions and qualifications to save the society from “unnecessary perceptions”.
After the mentioned consultations the Armenian media began to actively speculate about Zakaryan’s imminent departure from his post as his powers were to end already in November.
Yet, the president, in fact, acted the opposite way, nominating Zakaryan for a second six-year term when his powers expired earlier this month.
The parliament majority represented by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and its junior partner Orinats Yerkir, as well as the “alternative” Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), with which Zakaryan had been affiliated before taking up the post in 2007, ensured the official’s re-election as they voted overwhelmingly in a closed secret ballot on Tuesday.
Zakaryan was elected to the National Assembly in 2007 on the PAP list and in 2000-2004 headed the National Olympic Committee, which is now led by PAP leader Gagik Tsarukyan. So the tycoon-led party that accused the RPA of committing electoral violations during the Sunday mayoral vote in Ararat, the next day supported RPA leader Sargsyan’s nomination for the post of the Control Chamber chairman.
Still, members of the opposition do not believe that Zakaryan will be able to make bold statements in the future again after being castigated by the president.
“During the well-known consultations Serzh Sargsyan asked Ishkhan Zakaryan: “And can you imagine what will happen if the Special Investigation Service expresses its opinion about the chairman of the Control Chamber?” The fact that Zakaryan is here today means that he has received assurances that the Special Investigation Service will not express any opinion about his activities, his possessions and the way he lives. It means that Zakaryan, in his turn, has made similar assurances in response,” said opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan during the discussions of Zakaryan’s candidacy.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, Dashnaktsutyun), which has noticeably moderated its opposition stance in recent months, also has doubts about the independence of the Control Chamber. ARF parliamentary faction head Armen Rustamyan thinks that “nothing has been left” of the Control Chamber’s independence.
“That independence was neutralized before our own eyes. After the consultations hosted by the president the Control Chamber began to defend itself, because it had found itself under serious pressure and could not stand that pressure,” said Rustamyan, suggesting that the position of the Control Chamber head should be given to the opposition.
Zakaryan himself avoided interviews and did not respond to opposition criticism in recent days.
Perhaps the biggest revelation of the Control Chamber was related to large-scale misuse of pension funds, as a result of which former State Social Security Service chief Vazgen Khachartyan and a number of Service workers have been prosecuted.