Ignoring continuing street protests in Yerevan, the ruling Republican Party (HHK) on Saturday nominated its chairman and former President Serzh Sarkisian to be Armenia’s next prime minister.
The HHK’s decision-making Council unexpectedly met in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor, rather than Yerevan, to formalize the nomination the day after the opposition Civil Contract party launched nonstop demonstrations in the capital against Sarkisian’s continued rule.
The Civil Contract leader, Nikol Pashinian, told supporters on Friday to gear up for marching to the HHK headquarters and surrounding it during the key meeting. After it emerged overnight that the meeting has been moved to Tsaghkadzor, Pashinian planned on Saturday morning to send a large group of his loyalists there late in the afternoon.
The HHK again wrong-footed the protest leaders when it announced afterwards that its Council has already met and nominated Sarkisian for what will now be Armenia’s top executive post.
A short statement released by the party said the nomination was “proposed” at the meeting by Karen Karapetian, the outgoing prime minister and the HHK’s first deputy chairman. “The Council discussed the issue and unanimously approved [Sarkisian’s] candidacy,” it said.
Several photographs of the meeting held at a Tsaghkadzor luxury hotel showed both Sarkisian and Karapetian addressing senior HHK members. Their remarks were not immediately made public.
Sarkisian and Karapetian met to discuss their political future on April 7, two days before the HHK chairman completed his second and final presidential term. The outgoing premier said afterwards that they decided to “propose” to the HHK leadership to nominate Sarkisian for prime minister.
Karapetian cited the need for a “smooth and effective transition” to a parliamentary system of government. He is expected to become the number two government figure in his new capacity as first deputy prime minister.
The Armenian parliament is scheduled to vote for the new prime minister on Tuesday. The HHK holds 58 seats in the 105-member National Assembly. Its junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), controls 7 parliament seats.
The Dashnaktsutyun leadership officially announced its endorsement of Sarkisian’s candidacy later on Saturday. “Although there are numerous serious challenges and problems in our country requiring solutions, certain successes achieved in the last two years make us hope that the chosen path is right,” it said in a statement.
Dashnaktsutyun cut a power-sharing deal with Sarkisian and the HHK in March 2016. It is represented in the current government by three ministers.
Sarkisian promised in April 2014 that he will “not aspire” to the post of prime minister if Armenia becomes a parliamentary republic as a result of his constitutional changes. He downplayed that pledge last month, citing the increased risk of renewed fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and other security challenges facing the country.
The Armenian opposition and Pashinian’s Civil Contract in particular accuse Sarkisian of failing to keep his word. The ongoing protests in Yerevan are aimed at scuttling the ex-president’s plans. Pashinian has indicated that his supporters will march to the parliament building and try to thwart the vote on the new prime minister on April 17.