By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s entire cabinet of ministers resigned on Monday due to the sudden death of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.
The resignation was swiftly accepted by President Robert Kocharian during an emergency government meeting chaired by the head of state.
A government statement cited Article 55 of the Armenian constitution which obligates the ruling cabinet to step down in case the post of prime minister becomes vacant. The statement said Kocharian instructed the ministers to continue to perform their duties “until the formation of a new government.”
Under the recently amended constitution, the president of the republic has to name a new prime minister, backed by the majority of parliament deputies, within the next ten days. The appointment must follow consultations with leaders of the parliamentary majority.
Kocharian held such consultations immediately after the cabinet session. “Participants of the meeting stressed the importance of ensuring the continued regular and unfettered work of the executive authority,” his office said without elaborating. Kocharian assured the majority leaders, among them top representatives of Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), that he will take “all necessary actions” required by the constitution, the office said.
Meanwhile, a special state commission tasked with organizing Markarian’s funeral announced that the deceased prime minister will be laid to rest in Yerevan’s Komitas Pantheon on Wednesday. In a separate decree, Kocharian declared Wednesday a day of national mourning.
“We have lost a statesman, a colleague, a friend who … headed the government for nearly seven years, and those seven years were the best years for our state,” Kocharian told his ministers amid a growing outpouring sympathy for Markarian expressed by Armenia’s main pro-government and opposition groups.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a junior partner in the HHK-led coalition government, described Markarian as a “patriot” who played a key role in maintaining political stability in the country. “The Armenian state and the Armenian people have suffered a big loss,” Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of another major pro-Kocharian party, Prosperous Armenia, said in a statement.
Similar statements were also made by the leaders of virtually all major opposition parties that have often strongly criticized the policies of the Markarian-led government. Despite his loyalty to Kocharian, the late premier rarely subjected them to harsh attacks and even maintained personal contacts with some prominent oppositionists, notably Aram Sarkisian of the radical Hanrapetutyun (Hanrapetutyun).
“Unfortunately, there are very few political figures in our government with the ability to listen and to forgive and other humane skills,” Sarkisian told RFE/RL. “Andranik Markarian was the number one such figure.”
“In a sense, Andranik Markarian served as a buffer between the government and the opposition,” he said. “I was always able to talk to him and voice complaints. I don’t think anybody else can now perform that role.”
The government in Yerevan also continued to receive on Monday letters of condolences from foreign leaders, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The British embassy in Armenia said it will fly its flags at half-mast on Wednesday as a sign of respect.