President Serzh Sarkisian could stay in power as Armenia’s prime minister after completing his second and final term in 2018, Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian said on Tuesday.
“Never say never,” Abrahamian told reporters when asked about the possibility of Sarkisian becoming prime minister after Armenia finishes its transition to the parliamentary system of government.
“We’ll see after 2017,” he said. “The  parliamentary elections will determine which political force the prime minister represents. If the [ruling] Republican Party (HHK) wins, it will decide who will be prime minister.”
Constitutional changes, which the Armenian authorities say were approved by voters in Sunday’s referendum, mean that that the prime minister will be the country’s most powerful official in 2018. Sarkisian’s successor as president will have largely ceremonial powers.
Sarkisian’s political opponents say the main purpose of this sweeping reform is to enable him to cling to power as prime minster or in another capacity. Sarkisian sought to quash such speculation last year when he publicly pledged not to become prime minister if the Armenian constitution is amended. He also reportedly told senior HHK figures this summer that he would not aspire to the post of parliament speaker either.
Sarkisian pointedly declined to reaffirm those pledges in a televised interview aired three days before the referendum. “We will talk about that after the 2017 parliamentary elections,” he said, commenting on his political future.
Abrahamian’s remarks will only stoke opposition allegations that Sarkisian is intent on extending his rule.
The premier, who led the HHK’s “Yes” campaign for the referendum, also dismissed opposition allegations that the vote was blatantly rigged by the authorities. “If they have complaints, they should appeal to relevant bodies,” he said.
Abrahamian, who also managed Sarkisian’s 2008 and 2013 presidential election campaigns, further dismissed video evidence of fraud reported by media, non-partisan observers and opposition proxies. He suggested that video clips showing vote buying, ballot stuffing and violence committed by government loyalists were doctored by “interested persons who want to cast a shadow on the referendum results.”