Yerevan (AFP) – Armenian protest leader Nikol Pashinyan Saturday scrambled for support in his bid to become prime minister amid key talks to break a deadlock over the country’s next leader.
Pashinyan was to hold anti-government rallies in his birthplace Ijevan and Armenia’s third largest city of Vanadzor, driving around the landlocked South Caucasus country with his supporters in a convoy.
In the small northern town of Dilijan, several hundred locals greeted Pashinyan, holding flags and beating drums.
“We want change in Armenia and Pashinyan to be elected prime minister right away,” said Arman Ovsepyan, a 43-year-old musician.
“If the Republicans refuse to leave power, we will force them to do so peacefully.”
Tatevik Karapetyan, a 32-year-old computer designer, added: “The people have started a peaceful revolution because Armenia desperately needed change.”
Armenia has been in the grips of a severe political crisis for the past two weeks. Observers fear the turmoil can destabilise the Moscow-allied nation.
Accused of a power grab by the opposition, the country’s leader Serzh Sarkisian resigned this week as the country’s new prime minister after serving as president for a decade.
The protest movement led by Pashinyan has accused Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party — which has a majority of seats in parliament — of clinging to power.
– Ultimatum –
Pashinyan, 42, has issued an ultimatum to the authorities, saying he should be elected a new prime minister in a vote on May 1. He however does not have enough votes to get elected.
Moscow has urged compromise and Russian President Vladimir Putin this week spoke by phone with the interim head of government, stressing the importance of the upcoming election.
On Saturday, the Prosperous Armenia Party, which holds 31 seats in the 105-member chamber, was expected to issue a statement on whether it would back Pashinyan.
Pashinyan has said he hoped Prosperous Armenia and a smaller opposition party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, “will make up their minds and clarify their position.”
Armenia’s figurehead president, Armen Sarkisian, met with acting head of government Karen Karapetyan and Serzh Sarkisian. The two Sarkasians are not related.
“The head of state is hoping that it will be possible to find a mutually acceptable solution through joint effort,” his office said, calling the meetings “constructive.”
– Crunch talks –
On Friday, Karapetyan refused to hold talks with the protest leader, accusing him of promoting his own agenda and worsening the crisis in the poor country of 2.9 million people.
Observers said intensive talks were going on behind the scenes and the situation was highly unpredictable.
Political analysts say Prosperous Armenia, led by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, has expressed support for Pashinyan but some of its members say they will only back the party’s leader as a candidate.
Pashinyan, who heads the Civil Contract party, pressed ahead with his campaign to rally support across the country after thousands attended a rally he led on Friday in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri which hosts a Russian military base.
He has called a halt to protests in the capital Yerevan to give demonstrators some rest after two weeks of nearly non-stop rallies, saying people should return to the streets on Sunday.
The opposition says only its candidate should become the country’s leader to oversee free and fair parliamentary elections and clean up the political system of corruption and the influence of oligarchs.