Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Armenian parliament fails to elect new prime minister 

Opposition leader accused ruling party of derailing his bid for the top job

Armenian opposition supporters hold portraits and placards as they attend a rally in Yerevan on April 30, 2018. Karen Minasyan / AFP
Armenian opposition supporters hold portraits and placards as they attend a rally in Yerevan on April 30, 2018. Karen Minasyan / AFP

Armenia's protest leader Nikol Pashinyan on Tuesday failed to get elected prime minister after the 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 after hours of deliberations during a day-long extraordinary parliament session.

"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 had 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 clings to power.

Pashinian led days of protests that forced veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian 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 Sarkisian supporters.

As tens of thousands of people gathered in central Yerevan, Pashinian told lawmakers before a vote on his candidacy that Sarkisian's backers in the ruling 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," said Pashinian, who had swapped his usual camouflage T-shirt for a suit and tie.

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," Pashinian 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 onto 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 Suren Gevorkyan, a 19-year-old student wearing a T-shirt with Pashinian's portrait.


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Pashinian has 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 Pashinian 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 simmering territorial conflict with another neighbour, Azerbaijan.

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

Officials in Moscow have been watching 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.

Pashinian, a 42-year-old former newspaper editor, said in his speech to parliament on Tuesday that, if elected, he would maintain a close relationship with Moscow.

He accused the ruling party of planning to derail his bid for the top job.

Mr Pashinian, the leader of mass protests that forced veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian from power last month in the impoverished Caucasus nation, is the only candidate for the post of prime minister.

But he is short a handful of votes in parliament, and the support of the ruling Republican Party is crucial.

A source familiar with negotiations between Mr Pashinian and the Republican Party told AFP news agency that they struck a deal several days ago, with the ruling party agreeing to support his bid.

But it appears that agreement may no longer be in place, leaving Mr Pashinian potentially short of votes.

"During a night-time meeting headed by Serzh Sarkisian the Republicans decided to derail tomorrow's election of a prime minister," Mr Pashinian said in a video address released in the early hours of Tuesday, urging hundreds of thousands to take to the streets.

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

Updated: May 1, 2018 09:44 PM