Pashinian petitioned Sarkissian last week to sign a decree relieving General Onik Gasparian of his duties shortly after the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff and 40 other high-ranking officers issued a joint statement that accused the government of misrule and demanded its resignation. Pashinian rejected the demand as a “military coup attempt.”
Sarkissian refused to sign such a decree on Saturday, saying that it appears to be unconstitutional and would deepen the “unprecedented” political crisis in the country. Pashinian criticized the refusal as “unfounded” and resent his motion to Sarkissian in another attempt to have him fire Gasparian.
Under Armenian law, the president can now keep blocking or at least delaying the sacking only by asking the Constitutional Court to declare the decree drafted by the prime minister unconstitutional. Otherwise, the decree will enter into force even if Sarkissian refuses to sign it for a second time.
“The president has decided not to sign the draft decree,” Sarkissian’s office said in a statement released on Tuesday.
Significantly, the office announced no decision to challenge its legality in the Constitutional Court. This means that Gasparian will automatically lose his post if the head of state does not appeal to the court by Thursday morning.
The Homeland Salvation Movement, an opposition alliance campaigning for Pashinian’s resignation, was quick to express serious concern over Sarkissian’s apparent decision to refrain from such an appeal. Its leaders demanded an urgent meeting with him.
The alliance blames Pashinian for Armenia’s defeat in the autumn war with Azerbaijan and wants him to resign. Accordingly, it has hailed the unprecedented statement issued by the military’s top brass.
Sarkissian already met with opposition leaders as well as pro-government lawmakers and Gasparian before making his first decision on the issue at the weekend.
Pashinian visited Sarkissian on Monday. Addressing thousands of supporters who gathered in Yerevan’s Republic Square later in the day, he urged the president to stop objecting to Gasparian’s removal.
On Sunday, a senior lawmaker close to Pashinian suggested that Sarkissian himself appears to have violated the Armenian constitution and might be impeached because of that. Sarkissian insisted afterwards that he acted “impartially” and in strict conformity with the constitution.