Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian faced tough questions from members of the pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament on Monday as he tried to secure their backing for his bid to become the country’s prime minister.
Senior lawmakers from the ruling Republican Party (HHK) pounced on his past harsh criticisms of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and his current pledges not to pull Armenia of the Russian-led blocs.
Pashinian met with the HHK’s parliamentary faction in the presence of journalists one day before a session of the National Assembly which is due to choose a replacement for former Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. The latter stepped down on April 23 amid massive street protests organized by Pashinian.
Although the 42-year-old opposition politician has been endorsed by three other parliamentary forces, he needs the HHK’s full or partial support to become prime minister. The party until now headed by Sarkisian has made clear that it will not nominate acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian or anybody else for the vacant post.
“Our immediate task is to turn the page of political feud and create an atmosphere of solidarity based on law,” Pashinian said before answering questions from the parliament majority members.
Some of them cited his earlier denunciations of the Sarkisian administration’s decision to make Armenia part of the EEU and his claims that membership in the Russian-led trade bloc is very bad for the country. They repeatedly challenged him to explain why he is now making very different statements on the subject.
“We now have new political realities and must reckon with them,” Pashinian kept saying. A “drastic” change in Armenia foreign policy would only hurt the country, he argued.
Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker, remained unconvinced. “You have just proved very well that the foreign policy of the Armenian government has stemmed from Armenia’s national interests and that out accession to the Eurasian Union served those interests,” he said.
Armen Ashotian, another senior HHK lawmaker, likewise said Pashinian must now admit that he was wrong and that Sarkisian’s foreign policy decisions were justified.
The HHK’s Samvel Farmanian demanded, for his part, further clarifications of Pashinian’s position on Armenia’s broader relations with Russia Pashinian assured him that just like the current government he regards Russian-Armenian ties as a “strategic alliance.”
Answering other questions, Pashinian would not say who will be given key ministerial posts in his cabinet if he is elected prime minister. He promised only that he would form a “government of accord” and avoid staff “purges.” He also insisted that a smooth handover of power to his movement will significantly accelerate economic growth in the country.
The HHK’s Gagik Melikian disagreed, saying that the daily protests across the country are on the contrary taking a heavy toll on the Armenian economy. “People must have no hopes for a better life for the next seven or eight years,” he claimed.
“I don’t share your pessimism and think that there will be quick and tangible changes,” responded Pashinian. He said a “lack of justice and rule of law” are the main hurdles to faster growth and that he would act quickly to eliminate them.
The HHK faction met behind the closed doors after the question and answer session with Pashinian.