In a dramatic about face, the ruling Republican Party (HHK) indicated on Wednesday that it will not prevent opposition leader Nikol Pashinian form becoming Armenia’s prime minister when the parliament again discusses his candidacy on May 8.
The HHK’s parliamentary faction said it will again refrain from nominating a candidate for prime minister and will “help” instead another candidate, backed by at least one third of parliament deputies, take up the country’s top executive post.
The announcement followed a meeting between HHK lawmakers and former Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian held in the parliament building in Yerevan. It came the day after 56 of the 105 members of the National Assembly, all of them affiliated with the HHK, voted against Pashinian’s becoming prime minister.
The HHK move paves the way for Pashinian’s premiership seeing as the parliament’s second largest faction led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian said that it continues to support his bid to replace Sarkisian. Tsarukian made this clear after talks held with Pashinian.
“We continue to stand by the people’s candidate,” Tsarukian told reporters as he and Pashinian emerged from a Yerevan hotel located on Republic Square, the main venue of huge rallies held by the opposition leader. He insisted that Pashinian’s coming to power would formalize “the victory of the people.”
The Tsarukian Bloc holds 31 parliament seats. Pashinian is also supported by the Yelk alliance and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which control another 16 seats.
A total of 45 deputies voted for Pashinian at the end of Tuesday’s lengthy and heated parliament debate during which HHK lawmakers questioned the 42-year-old protest leader’s fitness to run the country. They claimed, in particular, that he would not make a strong commander-in-chief of Armenia’s armed forces.
The parliament’s refusal to install Pashinian as prime minister led him to urge supporters to widen their “civil disobedience” actions. Scores of them blocked many streets in Yerevan and highways leading to the capital on Wednesday morning, bringing much of Armenia to a standstill.
Armenian Culture Minister Armen Amirian stepped down later in the day. He gave no reason for the move.
“The Republic of Armenia will have a constitutionally elected prime minister on May 8,” said the statement read out by the party’s parliamentary leader Vahram Baghdasarian to reporters.
“The HHK will not nominate a candidate for prime minister,” it said. “The HHK will help the candidate to be nominated by one-third of the parliament to become prime minister.”
The statement attributed the U-turn to the need to “immediately put the country back on a stable course.” It urged the Pashinian-led movement to unblock streets and roads and stop “propaganda of intolerance.”
The statement also said that Pashinian failed to address the most important of concerns that were raised by HHK lawmakers during Tuesday’s parliament debate. “These issues are crucial not for the HHK but the very future of our country,” it said.
Pashinian, meanwhile, said that his rise to power is now “practically” a forgone conclusion as he addressed tens of thousands of supporters who again filled Yerevan’s Republic Square on Wednesday evening.
“The people of Armenia have won and they will keep wining from now on,” he told the crowd that repeatedly chanted “Victory!” and “Nikol prime minister!”
Citing the HHK statement, Pashinian urged supporters to stop blocking streets and staging other protests for now. He said he expects at least 35 parliament deputies to formally nominate him for prime minister on Thursday.
“If all goes well we will take some rest and prepare for the prime minister’s election,” he added nearly three weeks after launching his unexpectedly successful campaign for regime change in Armenia.