( Armenialiberty) - The National Assembly adopted on Monday a controversial bill that allows millions of foreign nationals of Armenian origin to become citizens of Armenia and vote in national elections held there.
Deputies voted by 66 to 5, with one abstention, to pass, in the second and final reading, a package of government-drafted amendments to relevant Armenian laws, despite serious objections voiced by the leaders of the parliament's largest faction.
The legislators representing the governing Republican Party (HHK) insisted as recently as last Thursday that dual citizens from the worldwide Armenian Diaspora be granted voting rights only if they live in Armenia during at least one of the five years preceding a particular election. The demand was backed by the parliament's opposition minority which boycotted the parliament vote. Justice Minister David Harutiunian, who authored the amendments on behalf of the government, rejected it as unconstitutional.
Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian and virtually all other Republicans eventually fell in line, suggesting that President Robert Kocharian personally pushed for the bill's adoption. Torosian attributed the U-turn to a "political agreement" reached by the country's governing coalition.
The leader of the HHK's parliament faction, Galust Sahakian, denied any pressure from Kocharian. "The matter should not be linked with the president," he said.
The five votes against the amendments, made possible by the November 2005 abolition of a constitutional ban on dual citizenship, came from the deputies affiliated with the pro-Kocharian United Labor Party (MAK). The MAK is unhappy with the fact that dual citizens will be allowed to hold ministerial positions in the Armenian government. The amended law on citizenship only bars them from running for president and parliament.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another coalition member and the main proponent of the right to dual nationality, welcomed the adoption of the bill. Dashnaktsutyun deputies celebrated it with an improvised reception promptly held in their parliament offices. "This law is an opportunity to consolidate our nation," one of them, Ruben Hovsepian, said.
Dashnaktsutyun leaders earlier shrugged off opposition claims that the nationalist party has been strongly advocating introduction of dual citizenship because it has many members and supporters in the Diaspora.
The ban on dual citizenship was imposed by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), which remains staunchly opposed to the idea. The HHSh deputy chairman, Andranik Hovakimian, insisted on Monday that it is "extremely dangerous" and fraught with "numerous risks" for Armenia's national security.