Mass protests throughout Armenia have gained a second wind after parliament failed to appoint protest leader Nikol Pashinyan as prime minister yesterday. Pashinyan has been demanding a ‘full transfer of power’ from the ruling Republican Party to his movement.
On Wednesday, in a 20th day of mass protests in Yerevan and other areas of the country, tens of thousands of protesters paralysed the city’s main arteries, shut down the metro, and temporarily blocked the road leading to Zvartnots International Airport.
Labour strikes have been reported throughout the country, including Armenia’s second and third biggest cities, Gyumri and Vanadzor, with several officials joining the protests in the Tavush Province of northeastern Armenia.
A campaign of nation-wide strikes and civil disobedience was announced by Pashinyan on Tuesday evening, after the ruling Republican Party blocked his appointment as PM in a historic vote in Armenia’s parliament, the National Assembly. The Republican Party had promised not to block Pashinyan’s appointment two days earlier.
Pashinyan gained the support of 45 MPs with 56 voting against. All three opposition factions in the National Assembly supported his candidacy. A single MP from the ruling Republican Party, Feliks Tsolakyan, voted in favour of Pashinyan, writing on Facebook after the vote that he ‘followed the dictates of conscience and voted for the people’s candidate’.
The Republican Party announced on Wednesday that they will not put forward a candidate for a second-round vote on 8 May, and will support a candidate that is nominated by at least one-third of Parliament, according to EVN Report.
Pashinyan and opposition leader Gagik Tsarukyan announced earlier that the Tsarukyan bloc will support Pashinyan in the second round. Together, Pashinyan’s Yelk Blok and the Tsarukyan bloc hold 47 of 105 seats in the national assembly, 45%.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Azatutyun, on Wednesday morning, Pashinyan condemned the result of parliament’s vote and said that ‘under all scenarios, the people can’t fail to win’. He reiterated his demand for a ‘full transfer of power’ to his movement speaking shortly after the election.
Pashinyan asked protesters to cease blocking Yerevan’s streets after 17:00, but protests are set to continue until 8 May when a new vote for PM will be held in parliament.
Acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan and President Armen Sargsyan have both called for political parties to continue talks to solve the crisis.
On Wednesday afternoon, Minister of Culture Armen Amiryan resigned after protests from Armenian artists, according to his spokesperson. Amiryan is the first minister from the ruling Republican Party to do so.
On 25 April, Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs Hrach Rostomyan from Gagik Tsarukyan’s Prosperous Armenia party resigned, declaring his support for Pashinyan.
This was followed the next day by ministers and governors from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation on 26 April, after they pulled out of their coalition with the Republicans. This included the ministers of Territorial Administration and Development, Education and Science, and Nature Protection, as well as the governors of Shirak and Aragatsotn provinces, according to PanoramaAM.
Yerevan-based political analyst Mikayel Zolyan told OC Media that if the next parliamentary vote on 8 May fails to elect a prime minister, parliament will be dissolved and a snap election will be held in 30–45 days.
‘The problem is in this case, that the current caretaker government led by the Republican Party remains in place and elections take place according to the existing electoral code, which has many loopholes that can be used by the Republican Party to manipulate the election’, Zolyan said.
If Pashinyan is appointed PM on 8 May and the Republican Party–controlled parliament doesn’t accept his programme, which he’ll have to present within 20 days, new elections will also be held.
Zolyan said that the latter scenario gives more leverage to the opposition.
‘Pashinyan suggests that there should be a preliminary agreement between all parties that the parliament should vote down this programme, opening the way to a new election. But in the meantime, the laws will be changed, and since Pashinyan will be PM, the Republican Party will lose its administrative resources’, Zolyan said.
A ‘Velvet Revolution’
Small protests loosely organised around the slogan ‘No to Serzh’ began in March. Since 13 April, tens of thousands have come out to the streets daily in what Pashinyan has called a ‘velvet revolution’. The protests were initially limited to opposing former president Serzh Sargsyan’s appointment as prime minister, but their demands later expanded to include a new government from outside the ruling Republican Party, and new elections to be held under a new electoral code.
OSCE observers noted that the previous parliamentary elections, in 2017, were ‘tainted by credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies’.
Following constitutional changes passed in 2015, Armenia’s parliament, the National Assembly, is now in charge of electing the prime minister. With Armenia’s shift from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary system, the prime minister is the most powerful position in the country.
Having previously played down suggestions he would run again for political office, Sargsyan, having served the maximum 10 years as president, announced on 11 April that he would seek the position of prime minister. On 17 April, he was sworn in as PM by Armenia’s parliament, the National Assembly. He resigned on 23 April after 11 days of protests.