A former Armenian prime minister who has lived in Britain for nearly three decades officially accepted on Friday the outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian’s offer to serve as Armenia’s next president under a new, parliamentary system of government.
Armen Sarkissian (no relation) communicated his widely anticipated decision to Sarkisian after a series of meetings held with Armenian political parties, non-governmental organizations, prominent intellectuals and business circles.
The next president of the republic will be elected by the Armenian parliament, controlled by the ruling Republican Party (HHK), one month before the current head of state completes his final term on April 9. Armenia will then be transformed into a parliamentary republic, meaning that the most of the presently sweeping presidential powers will be given to the prime minister.
The outgoing president offered to nominate Armen Sarkissian as the HHK’s presidential candidate on January 19. Sarkissian, who has served as Armenia’s ambassador to Britain since 2013, said he needs time to decide whether to accept the proposal.
“With my entire essence and vigor, I am ready to get involved in that very important endeavor if the National Assembly elects me president,” Sarkissian told the president on Friday.
The 64-year-old former scholar said his month-long meetings reinforced his belief that “a lot needs to be done in various areas.” He said that as president he will strive to “make my contributions” to Armenia’s foreign policy, international economic relations and, in particular, government efforts to attract more foreign investment. He said he will also try to improve the quality of public education and strengthen the Armenian civil society.
Under Armenia’s amended constitution, Serzh Sarkisian’s successor will be primarily tasked with ensuring “observance of the constitution” by various branches of government. He will be empowered to appoint members of the government, ambassadors abroad and the Armenian army’s top brass. But all of those officials will be nominated by the prime minister, who will also be the army’s commander-in-chief.
Sarkissian has insisted during his frequent contacts with journalists in recent weeks that he will be more than a figurehead if he runs for president and gets elected. He has also called for a “national dialogue” among Armenia’s political and other organizations, saying that it is necessary for healing serious divisions existing in the society.
The presidential frontrunner said on Friday that he intends to launch such a dialogue. Serzh Sarkisian praised his “readiness for dialogue” in his opening remarks at the meeting.
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 Britain where he made a big fortune in the following decade, mainly working as an advisor and consultant for Western corporations doing business in the former Soviet Union. He was appointed as Armenian ambassador to Britain for a third time in 2013.
Sarkissian will have 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, the president expressed hope last month that the former premier will win outright in the first round. In that case, he 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 votes of businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance which holds 31 seats. Despite being officially in opposition to the government, Tsarukian has not ruled out the possibility of endorsing an HHK candidate.