YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — The Armenian parliament on Thursday called for an extraordinary session next week to vote for a new prime minister after the country was plunged into a political crisis with the abrupt resignation of its leader.
Serzh Sargsyan, who ruled the country for 10 years, surprised many when he stepped down as prime minister Monday amid massive anti-government protests.
Parliament said a vote will be held on May 1 to elect a new leader, potentially leading the way out of the post-Soviet nation’s biggest political crisis in years.
Nikol Pashinian, who leads the opposition and wants to be nominated for prime minister, held talks earlier Thursday with parliamentary factions to secure support for his candidacy.
Sargsyan’s party still holds a majority in the parliament, however.
Sargsyan won two presidential terms by a landslide before moving to the role of prime minister earlier this year. The population of this impoverished nation, however, has been disappointed by the perceived cronyism of Sargsyan and rampant government corruption.
The opposition rallies that began two weeks ago protested what was seen as Sargsyan’s attempt to stay in power indefinitely.
Tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied Wednesday in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, calling for Pashinian to become prime minister. Protesters on Thursday morning blocked traffic on major roads in and outside the capital, chanting “Victory!” A major rally is planned for later in the day.
“There are more of us every day,” said 30-year-old Samvel Nazaryan, who was waving the Armenian tricolor on a Yerevan street. “The wave of protest will wash away this government sooner or later.”
Pashinian called this a show of force a warning that the protesters could paralyze the government if they decide to.
“Protests will grow throughout Armenia until authorities can hear us,” he said.
The Kremlin is watching its small but strategic ally, where Russia has a military base, with concern. Moscow, however, has showed restraint in its reaction, insisting that the demonstrations are a domestic matter for Armenian officials to sort out.
The Kremlin said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the crisis on the phone with Armenian President Armen Sarkisian, Sargsyan’s ally, and the Armenian foreign minister flew to Moscow to meet with Russia’s foreign policy chief.
On Wednesday, Russia’s ambassador to Yerevan met with Pashinian.
Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.