YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — The leader of protests that gripped Armenia for weeks was named the country’s new prime minister on Tuesday, overcoming the immediate political turmoil but raising uncertainty about the longer term.
The parliament’s approval of Nikol Pashinian by a 59-42 vote capped a fast-moving month of massive protests, the surprise resignation of the prime minister and political maneuvering.
Many Armenians have stewed for years about the country’s poverty and widespread corruption, but Pashinian was able to galvanize the discontent into a mass movement that was occasionally raucous but largely peaceful.
The protests focused on former leader Serzh Sargsyan’s transition from president to prime minister, a move that opponents saw as effectively allowing him to remain the ccountry’s leader indefinitely.
Sargsyan was president for a decade, but stepped down this year because of term limits. However, Armenia has changed its government structure, giving the prime minister more power at the expense of the presidency.
Soon after Sargsyan stopped being president, he was named prime minister by the parliament, where his Republican Party has the majority of seats.
Faced with the mass protests, Sargsyan left the premiership on April 23, six days after his election. In a concession last week, the Republicans agreed to support any prime minister candidate nominated by a third of the parliament members, paving the way for Pashinian’s election.
On the capital’s central square, supporters were ecstatic on Tuesday after the vote.
“We chose a new road in Armenia where the driver will be the people and not clans. Jobs will appear, people will return, corruption will disappear,” said demonstrator Tigran Azizian, a 42-year-old worker in the city’s subway.
But for all the delight, Pashinian faces significant challenges, not least that the Republicans remain a sizeable majority in parliament.
The intense hopes that Pashinian’s supporters invested in him could fade fast if he does not move decisively to implement changes and call snap elections that could drive the Republicans from the majority.
Pashinian also suggested that he will push for recognition of the sovereignty of the Nagorno-Karabakh region — one of Armenia’s most difficult and volatile problems.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a separatist war in 1994. Fighting periodically breaks out between those forces and Azerbaijani troops stationed on the other side of a demilitarized zone.
In a speech to parliament preceding his election, Pashinian said that his “revolution will lead to the de-jure recognition of realizing the rights of Karabakh to self-determination.”
He later announced he would visit the region on Wednesday, a move certain to anger Azerbaijan.
Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.