Prime Minister Karen Karapetian on Thursday told members of his cabinet to continue to work as usual despite having to tender their resignations immediately after Armenia’s new president takes office on Monday.
Armen Sarkissian will replace the outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian (no relation) but will have largely ceremonial powers due to the country’s transition to a parliamentary system of government. The Armenian constitution requires Karapetian and all ministers to step down on the same day. But they will continue to perform their duties until the formation of a new cabinet.
The National Assembly controlled by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) is due to elect a new prime minister on April 17. The latter will have five days to nominate his cabinet members who will be formally appointed by the new president in the next two or three weeks.
“Based on the constitutional requirement, we are going to submit the government’s resignation,” Karapetian told a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “Using this occasion, I want to thank all of you for our joint work.”
“Don’t feel happy,” he added with a smile. “We have to keep working with the same tempo. Don’t ease the tempo.”
Serzh Sarkisian is widely expected to replace Karapetian as prime minister and thus remain in power. Karapetian, for his part, is tipped to become first deputy prime minister. Observers expect few ministerial changes.
The next Armenian premier will be based in a building in Yerevan that has housed President Sarkisian and his staff for the past decade. Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian revealed on Thursday that he will also “perform a part of his duties” in another office which is currently occupied by Karapetian and serves as the venue for cabinet meetings. Those duties are “directly related to the work of the government,” he said without elaborating.
“The prime minister’s powers have been expanded to such an extent that he will be performing a considerable part of the current president’s duties,” Harutiunian told reporters. “In this sense, the presidential administration building is adapted for properly exercising a number of powers.”
Under a controversial bill passed by the parliament last month, journalists will no longer be able to watch cabinet meetings in Yerevan live from an adjacent press room. The prime minister could only make “a part of a meeting” open to the press.
Armenia’s leading media associations have criticized this change, saying that it will make the government less transparent.
Harutiunian, who is the key author of the bill, again dismissed the criticism. He said the government will continue to publicize the agendas of its weekly meetings beforehand.Also, he said, journalists will be briefed on key decisions made by the executive.
Harutiunian argued earlier that in virtually all countries of the world cabinet meetings are held in closed session.