Armen Sarkissian has again insisted that he will play a major political role in Armenia if he is elected the country’s new president by the parliament next month.
The former prime minister currently serving as Armenian ambassador to Britain formally accepted last week President Serzh Sarkisian’s offer to succeed him as head of state. The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which holds the majority of parliament seats, will in turn formalize the nomination of his candidacy in the coming days.
The National Assembly is expected to elect the new head of state on March 2, one month before the outgoing president will complete his final term. The latter’s successor will have largely ceremonial powers due to the country’s transition to a parliamentary system of government.
“Many think that the next president of the republic will have no powers and that one should therefore have no expectations from him,” Sarkissian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview. “There is also the other extreme: the inertia-based notion that the president can do everything. The reality lies somewhere in between the two beliefs.”
Sarkissian said that despite lacking “administrative levers” under Armenia’s amended constitution the next president will have “very broad duties and powers.” “Therefore, the next president will have a big task of somehow shaping the image of a new president, his powers and his presence,”
The constitution stipulates that the president shall, among other things, 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.
Sarkissian, who has lived in Britain for nearly three decades, declined to clarify whether he thinks that there are political prisoners in Armenia. “The issue is unclear because … I have not seen any international organization say that a particular individual in Armenia is a political prisoner,” he said. “If you ask the [Armenian] civil society, various non-governmental organizations dealing with human rights they will give you a list [of political prisoners.]”
“The president of the republic must pay serious attention to this issue in order to preclude the existence of political prisoners in the country,” he added.