An emerging opposition movement held its first rally in Yerevan on Saturday, calling for combined efforts to prevent outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian from staying in power after the end of his second and final term next month.
Despite his public pledge in 2014 not to seek a top government post after the constitutional reform turning Armenia into a parliamentary republic, Sarkisian is in a position to become the country’s next prime minister as the leader of the ruling Republican Party (HHK) that won last year’s parliamentary elections by a landslide.
Sarkisian has not spoken about his plans yet, but a number of senior HHK members have expressed their “personal opinion” that there is no better candidate than the current president for the post of the future prime minister who will be the top policymaker in the country under the reformed constitution.
Holding its rally in Liberty Square tonight the group called “Front For the State of Armenia” sought to become a key platform pushing for a change of power in Armenia. Members of the group said their movement is going to rally around itself different political parties and individuals sharing the same attitude.
Speakers at the gathering presented the key provisions of the movement’s program. With its first step the Front plans to set up a “provisional government”, “declare amnesty and release the political prisoners”. In the future, the movement intends to “establish the Constitution through the Constituent Assembly and hold new elections.”
Among the political parties and groups involved in the Front that are known to the general public in Armenia most is the Zharangutiun (Heritage) party. Its newly elected Chairman Armen Martirosian said in his speech that the movement is essentially non-partisan and should unite all efforts to prevent the HHK from nominating Sarkisian as a candidate for Armenia’s next prime minister.
According to Martirosian, if the HHK decides after April 9, when Sarkisian’s second and final presidential term expires, that he should stay in power and serve as prime minister, “then tens of thousands of more Armenians will emigrate from the country in the years to come.” “And that’s what should not be allowed,” he underscored.
The opposition assessed the rally attendance as quite high, something that they said was unexpected even for them.
The movement scheduled its next rally for March 16, a day that will also mark the first anniversary of the death of Artur Sargsian, a man who broke a police cordon to deliver food to members of a radical opposition group, Sasna Tsrer, that seized and held for more than two weeks a police compound in Yerevan in July 2016. Sargisian was jailed along with dozens of the oppositionists after their surrender to security forces and died shortly after being released from pretrial detention on bail the following year.
The Front For the State of Armenia also announced “periodical” rallies during the week commencing on April 9, when President Sarkisian’s powers will end and parliamentary factions will have seven days to name their candidates for the post of prime minister.
Tonight’s rally was also attended by leader of the parliamentary opposition Yelk faction Nikol Pashinian, member of the faction Ararat Mirzoyan and a number of human rights activists.
In his speech Artur Sakunts,the head of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly’s Vanadzor office, addressed the issue of whom opposition groups and civil society organizations consider as political prisoners in Armenia, giving the names of jailed fringe opposition leaders Shant Harutiunian, Zhirayr Sefiiyan and Andrias Ghukasian.