President Serzh Sarkisian officially confirmed on Friday that he wants a former Armenian prime minister currently serving as Armenia’s ambassador to Britain to succeed him as head of state in April.
Meeting with Ambassador Armen Sarkissian (no relation), he said the governing board of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) unanimously accepted late on Thursday his proposal to nominate the prominent diplomat for the post of president of republic.
Sarkissian, who has lived in London for nearly three decades, did not immediately accept the nomination. He said he needs to hold consultations with major political parties, civic groups, prominent intellectuals and “business circles” before making a “final decision.”
“And if I make a decision [to accept the nomination] after those meetings I will strive to perform the duties of Armenia’s president with honor and to live up to the confidence which I have heard from you and your party comrades and which I hope to also hear from other fellow citizens,” added the 64-year-old former scholar.
The end of Sarkisian’s decade-long presidency on April 9 will complete Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government. It means that most of the presently sweeping presidential powers will be transferred to the prime minister and his cabinet.
Also, the next president will be elected by the parliament, rather than popular vote, as has been the case until now. The ruling HHK controls the majority of seats in the National Assembly. It is therefore in a position to install Sarkisian’s pick for the next president.
The outgoing president, who could remain in power as prime minister, said earlier this week that his successor should be a renowned but politically inexperienced individual who speaks foreign languages and has “broad connections” in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora.
In remarks publicized by the presidential press office, he clarified on Friday that the next president must be “politically prepared and hardened but not politicized.” “He must be able to organize dialogue between various political forces and, if necessary, ease tensions between various strata of the society,” he said, adding that Armen Sarkissian fits the bill.
“You are an acclaimed scholar, you held the post of Armenia’s prime minister, you have a great deal of diplomatic experience, and this is the reason why we have seriously considered your candidacy,” Serzh Sarkisian told the ambassador.
The president also expressed hope that should he decide to accept the HHK offer Sarkissian would try to win the backing of the three other political groups represented in the National Assembly. Those are the HHK’s junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance and the opposition Yelk bloc. Yelk fielded its own presidential candidate late last year.
A physicist and mathematician by education, Armen Sarkissian worked at the Cambridge University when he was appointed as newly independent Armenia’s first ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1991. He served as prime minister for four months in 1996-1997 before being again named ambassador in London.
His second ambassadorial stint was cut short in 1999 by then President Robert Kocharian. Sarkissian stayed in London and went on to work as a senior advisor to major Western corporations such as BP, Alcatel and Bank of America. He also founded and ran the Eurasia Center of a Cambridge University business school from 2001-2011. He was appointed as Armenian ambassador to Britain for a third time in 2013.
Sarkissian, who is thought to have made a big fortune in the UK in the 2000s, has rarely commented on political developments in Armenia. He said on Friday that Armenia is now entering a “period of big changes” that should turn it into a “more democratic country.”