Lawmakers representing the opposition Yelk alliance said on Monday that they will vote against former Prime Minister Armen Sarkissian if he agrees to run for president as a candidate of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
“We will talk to Armen Sarkissian but the Yelk faction [in the parliament] will vote against his candidacy,” one of them, Ararat Mirzoyan, told reporters.
The Armenian parliament is due to elect a new and less powerful president of the republic by March 10. President Serzh Sarkisian offered Sarkissian on Friday to become the ruling party’s presidential candidate.
Sarkissian, who currently serves as Armenia’s ambassador to Britain, said he needs “some time” to decide whether to accept the offer. He said he will hold consultations with major political and civic groups before making the decision.
It is not clear when those talks will get underway. The Armenpress news agency reported that Sarkissian flew back to London over the weekend and will return to Armenia by the end of this week.
“I think that when it receives such a proposal the Yelk faction will definitely meet with the presidential candidate to hear [his views,] discuss some issues and even voice concerns,” said Mirzoyan. “But I am almost certain that that meeting will not reflect on the Yelk vote.”
“After all, Armen Sarkissian is a Republican Party candidate and that is a quite telling fact in itself,” he added.
Yelk announced late last year its desire to nominate its own presidential candidate, Artak Zeynalian. But in order to formally do that, it needs the backing of at least 27 members of Armenia’s 105-seat parliament.
The bloc holds only nine seats in the National Assembly. It has tried in vain to get the second largest parliamentary force, the Tsarukian Bloc, to provide the remaining 18 signatures needed for putting Zeynalian’s name on the ballot.
Another Yelk deputy, Gevorg Gorgisian, challenged the ruling HHK to help register Zeynalian as a candidate, saying that would make the upcoming presidential vote competitive and more legitimate. “Otherwise it will be an election without an alternative, without a dialogue and without a debate, which will run counter to democracy” he said.
The HHK’s parliamentary leader, Vahram Baghdasarian, scoffed at the idea. “You won’t find such a precedent in any country of the world,” he told a news conference.
Under the Armenian constitution, a presidential candidate has to be backed by a three-fourths and two-thirds majority of lawmakers in order to win in the first and second rounds of voting respectively. A simple majority of votes is enough to win the presidency in the third round. The HHK has such a majority.
Nevertheless, President Sarkisian expressed hope on Friday that Armen Sarkissian will win outright in the first round. In that case, the former premier would need the backing of at least 79 members of the 105-seat parliament.
The HHK and its junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), control 65 seats between them. They will therefore need the backing of the Tsarukian Bloc which holds 31 seats. The bloc’s leader, Gagik Tsarukian, has not ruled out the possibility of supporting an HHK presidential candidate.