Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian attended Armen Sarkissian’s inauguration on Monday, saying that the new Armenian president is more legitimate than his predecessor.
Hovannisian was the main opposition candidate in Armenia’s last presidential election held in 2013. He rejected as fraudulent the official election results that gave victory to the incumbent Serzh Sarkisian. A series of demonstrations organized by Hovannisian in Yerevan at the time failed to force the authorities to invalidate the vote.
The new president of the republic was elected by the Armenian parliament, rather than popular vote, in line with controversial constitutional changes enacted in 2015.
“Five years on, we have a new electoral system,” Hovannisian told reporters after the inauguration ceremony. “You can say it’s still based on fraud, but it’s a de facto new electoral system and we had today an inauguration which was more or less far from illegitimate. And so I congratulate Armen Sarkissian.”
“Let’s hope that with his proposals and experience he will help to mark, little by little, the beginning of a new, free, independent and creative Armenia for which our people fought not only five years ago but also for the last 25 years,” said the U.S.-born politician.
Sarkissian’s swearing-in ceremony was boycotted by all nine lawmakers representing the opposition Yelk alliance. They have questioned his eligibility to serve as head of state.
Armenia’s amended constitution requires presidential candidates to have had only Armenian citizenship for the last six years. Sarkissian has admitted receiving British citizenship in 2002. He insists that he gave it up in 2011. Yelk has been unconvinced by these assurances, demanding that Sarkissian produce a British government document certifying that.
One of the opposition bloc’s leaders, Nikol Pashinian, hit out at the new president as he continued to tour northern and central regions of Armenia on foot in an effort to drum up popular support for his upcoming anti-government rallies in Yerevan.
“His [British-based] sons and grandchildren will tell their grandchildren, ‘You know, our grandfather was Armenia’s president,’” scoffed Pashinian. “But if the grandchildren are a bit more mindful, they will realize that that story is far sadder than is presented.”
Pashinian, whose campaign is not supported by other Yelk leaders, is planning to hold daily demonstrations immediately after reaching Yerevan on Friday. They will be aimed at preventing former President Serzh Sarkisian from becoming prime minister later this month.
Also campaigning against Sarkisian’s “reproduction” is the For the Armenian State coalition of more radical opposition groups and activists, including the Zharangutyun party which Hovannisian founded and headed until last month. The grouping held its latest rally on Monday several hours after Hovannisian attended the presidential inauguration.