Yerevan (AFP) – Armenian lawmakers vote on Tuesday to elect a new prime minister, with opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan vying to take power after a fortnight of protests that have transformed the country’s politics.
The 42-year-old led the mass demonstrations that sparked last week’s resignation of veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian, who had just been voted premier with sweeping powers after serving as president for a decade.
Pashinyan spent Monday negotiating with all political forces, including the ruling Republican Party, whose support is paramount for his bid to become prime minister.
He is the only candidate for the post, nominated by his Elk coalition, and insists that only he can rid Armenia of corruption and poverty and conduct free and fair elections.
But Pashinyan is still six votes short of the 53 he needs from the 105-seat legislature, where the Republican Party has a majority.
Speaking to AFP in an interview Monday, Pashinyan said Armenians themselves wanted to determine the future of their country and an explosion of tensions was just a matter of time.
“People should have genuine possibilities to influence the political situation and political decisions,” he said.
Pashinyan’s protest movement had accused ex-leader Sarkisian of a power grab, saying he had failed to tackle a litany of problems like corruption, poverty and the influence of oligarchs.
Sarkisian’s Republican Party has yet to announce its official stance on the vote for a new premier, even though a senior lawmaker, Vahram Baghdasaryan, said it would not stand in the way of Pashinyan’s candidacy.
– ‘No obstacles’ –
Many political observers said it was highly likely that the hugely popular protest leader would be elected prime minister — a whirlwind development that was unimaginable just a few weeks ago in the poor South Caucasus country of 2.9 million people.
“I see practically no obstacles to Pashinyan becoming a prime minister,” political analyst Hakob Badalyan told AFP.
“There is political consensus including among the Republicans that the settling of the crisis in this way would serve the interests of the country.”
Observers and the international community have expressed concerns that the turmoil could destabilise the Moscow-allied nation, which has been locked in a territorial dispute with Azerbaijan for decades.
Russia has urged compromise while the United States has called for “a resolution that reflects the interests of all Armenians”.
“Our goal is to draw a line under animosity and create an atmosphere of solidarity,” Pashinyan told parliament on Monday.
To the tens of thousands of his supporters who rallied in the capital Yerevan on Sunday, the former newspaper editor declared: “Looking into your eyes, I can say that yes, I am ready — with a great sense of responsibility — to assume the prime ministerial duties.”
Over the weekend he had secured the backing of two major parties including Prosperous Armenia and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, giving him a total of 47 votes.
But the question remains whether can he get the last few votes he needs from the ranks of the ruling Republicans.
At any rate, observers say Sarkisian’s resignation appears to sound the death knell for the seemingly unshakable rule of the Republican Party, which dominated the ex-Soviet republic’s politics for over a decade, unchallenged by weak and divided opposition forces.