The Armenian parliament voted on Friday to elect Armen Sarkissian, a former prime minister who has long resided in Britain, Armenia’s new and largely ceremonial president.
Sarkissian was nominated for the post by the outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian (no relation) and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in January. He was also endorsed by the HHK’s junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), and businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance, which is officially in opposition to the government.
The opposition Yelk alliance, the fourth political group represented in the National Assembly, has rejected Sarkissian’s candidacy. Yelk, which holds 9 seats in the 105-member parliament, has also questioned his eligibility to serve as head of state.
Sarkissian was elected in secret ballot by 90 votes to 10. He gave a short speech in the parliament moments after the announcement of the vote results.
“I want to thank those who voted for me and those who voted against me,” he said. “I will invest my long experience and knowledge and my entire energy in properly performing the duties of Armenia’s president and properly serving the Republic of Armenia, its citizens and our people.”
“And I certainly expect your and our citizens’ support for and participation in our future important victories,” added the president-elect.
Only seven Yelk deputies cast ballots on Friday, suggesting that three other lawmakers affiliated with the HHK, Dashnaktsutyun or the Tsarukian Bloc secretly broke ranks to vote against Serzh Sarkisian’s preferred successor. It was not clear who they are.
Yelk’s parliamentary leader, Nikol Pashinian was quick to pounce on that fact. He declared with sarcasm that there are “hidden Yelk members” in the ruling party’s ranks.
Armen Sarkissian will be sworn in on April 9 immediately after Serzh Sarkisian completes his second and final term in office.
The outgoing president is widely expected to become prime minister later in April. With Armenia switching to a parliamentary system of government, he would remain the country’s most powerful man in that case.
Under sweeping constitutional changes controversially enacted by Serzh Sarkisian, the new president of the republic will have largely ceremonial powers. In particular, he will appoint members of the government, Armenian ambassadors abroad and the Armenian army’s top brass. But all of those officials will have to be nominated by the prime minister first.
Sarkissian, 64, has repeatedly stated in recent weeks that despite the lack of executive powers he intends to play a major role in Armenia’s political and economic life. He has pledged, among other things, to strive to heal what he sees as serious divisions existing within the Armenian society.
A physicist and mathematician by education, 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 and made a fortune there in the following decade, working as an advisor and middleman for Western corporations doing business in the former Soviet Union. He was appointed as Armenian ambassador to Britain for a third time in 2013.