Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 June 2019

Armenian parliament fails to elect new prime minister

Opposition leader accused ruling party of derailing his bid to lead troubled republic

Armenian opposition supporters hold portraits and placards as they attend a rally in Yerevan. AFP
Armenian opposition supporters hold portraits and placards as they attend a rally in Yerevan. AFP

Armenia's protest leader Nikol Pashinyan on Tuesday failed to be elected prime minister after the country's ruling party withheld its support in a crucial vote, raising fears of worsening political turmoil.

Lawmakers voted 45 in favour to 55 against Mr Pashinyan, with the ruling Republican Party rejecting his candidacy during a day-long extraordinary meeting of parliament.

"The political force which declared a war against its own people has destroyed itself," Mr Pashinyan said in parliament after the vote. "No one will be able to take victory away from the people."

Mr Pashinyan urged supporters to take to the streets on Tuesday to pressure parliament to choose him as prime minister, and warned of a political "tsunami" if the ruling elite clung to power.

The former journalist led days of protests that forced veteran leader Serzh Sargsyan to step down as prime minister last week, and is the sole nominee to take over the role. But he needs approval from a parliament dominated by Mr Sargsyan's supporters.

As tens of thousands of people gathered in central Yerevan, Mr Pashinyan told lawmakers before a vote on his candidacy that Mr Sargsyan's backers in the Republican Party should not snub the Armenian people's demands for change.

"You would think that in the situation that has unfolded conclusions would have been drawn, but the Republican Party has started to play cat-and-mouse with the people," Mr Pashinyan said.

Addressing Republican Party officials, he said: "Your behaviour, treating the tolerance of the people as a weakness, could become the cause of a tsunami."

"I turn to the nation of the Republic of Armenia and every citizen of the Republic of Armenia," Mr Pashinyan said in speech broadcast live on two big screens to the crowd in the capital's central Republic Square.

"Don't stay at home, and right now, go out into the streets if you have not done it yet ... Flood out on to the streets and the squares of the capital and other towns in the republic".

Supporters in the square waved the Armenian flag and carried balloons in the national colours. They blew horns and chanted "Nikol - prime minister!"

"I'm sure we will win today, Armenia will win!" said student Suren Gevorkyan, 19, wearing a T-shirt bearing Mr Pashinyan's image.


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Mr Pashinyan received the support of opposition parties which together hold 47 seats in the 105-seat legislature, but he will require a majority to win.

If he does become prime minister, it would signal a dramatic shift in power in ex-Soviet Armenia, which has been dominated by the same cadre of leaders since the late 1990s.

The country of around three million people borders Turkey and Iran and is locked in a territorial conflict with another neighbour, Azerbaijan.

Armenia is closely aligned with Moscow, and is home to Russian military bases.

Officials in Moscow watched the turbulence in Armenia closely for signs it could follow the pattern of Georgia and Ukraine, where popular revolts installed leaders who pulled their countries out of Moscow's orbit.

Mr Pashinyan, 42, told parliament that, if elected, he would maintain a close relationship with Moscow.

The vote by lawmakers is set to take place later Tuesday.

Updated: January 2, 2019 03:21 PM