Pashinyan and his wife after the victory (photo: Armenpress)

A Full Revolution: Pashinyan Becomes Prime Minister

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YEREVAN (Armenpress and RFE/RL) — The Armenian parliament voted to elect opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan prime minister on Tuesday, May 8, nearly one month after he launched sustained anti-government protests that led to resignation of Armenia’s longtime leader, Serzh Sargsyan.

Pashinyan was backed by 59 of the 105 members of the National Assembly. They included 13 lawmakers representing Sargsyan’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Forty-two other HHK deputies voted against him.

The HHK’s parliamentary leader, Vahram Baghdasaryan, made clear just before the vote that his party still has serious doubts about Pashinyan’s ability to govern Armenia but will nonetheless help him become prime minister in order to restore “political stability” in the country.

“Mr. Pashinyan, you will be elected prime minister … God willing, you will dispel the lingering concerns of the HHK faction,” said Baghdasaryan.

“I will serve the people of Armenia and the Republic of Armenia,” Pashinyan declared immediately after the vote which sparked jubilant scenes in Yerevan’s Republic Square where tens of thousands of his supporters gathered to celebrate his widely anticipated rise to power.

Addressing the parliament before the vote, Pashinyan pledged to implement “very serious reforms” that would democratize Armenia, strengthen the rule of law and radically improve the domestic business environmental.

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“All people are equal before the law, period!” he said. “There will be no privileged people in Armenia, period! Elections will not be rigged and vote bribes will not be handed out anymore, period! There will be no artificial economic monopolies, period! Human rights will be protected, government will not be a means for making money, and corruption will be rooted out, period!”

Pashinyan made clear at the same time that he will not wage “vendettas” against members of the HHK and the previous governments and will preclude any “redistribution” of economic assets and properties.

Also, he again ruled out major changes in Armenian foreign policy. In particular, he reiterated that Armenia will remain part of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). “We regard military cooperation with Russia as an important factor of ensuing Armenia’s security,” he said, adding he will also strive to deepen Armenia’s ties with the European Union and the United States.

Pashinyan further reaffirmed his plans to push for fresh parliamentary elections. But he gave no possible dates for the conduct of such polls. It remains to be seen whether the HHK, which continues to control the majority of seats in the parliament, will agree to them.

The idea of fresh elections is also supported by businessman Gagik Tsarukyan’s alliance and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Both political groups have backed the Pashinyan-led street protests against Sargsyan’s attempt to extend his rule, which began in Yerevan on April 13 and intensified dramatically in the following weeks.

Sargsyan, who served as Armenia’s president from 2008 to 2018, stepped down as prime minister on April 23.

Pashinyan declined to shed light on the composition of his cabinet when he spoke to reporters moments after being elected prime minister. He said his ministers will be chosen “as a result of discussions” with his allies and other political groups.

As required by the Constitution, a new government must be formed within 15 days after electing a Prime Minister.

An elected Prime Minister must nominate deputy Prime Ministers and ministers of his Cabinet to the President within five days after taking office. After the formation of the government, the Prime Minister must present his Cabinet’s action plan for parliamentary debates within 20 days. Lawmakers have seven days for debating the action plan.

In the event of the parliament’s rejection of the action plan, the elected PM resigns and new elections of PM take place. If a new Prime Minister is elected in the second elections and again the action plan isn’t approved, the parliament is dissolved and snap elections take place.

There are 4 factions in the Armenian parliament. The Republican Party (HHK) faction, the ruling party of Armenia, has 58 seats in the 105-seat unicameral parliament of Armenia – known as the National Assembly.  The ARF faction – (Armenian Revolutionary Federation aka Dashnaktsutyun), has 7 seats. The Tsarukyan faction has 31 seats, and the Yelk faction has 9 seats.

 

Meeting the President

Pashinyan had his first meeting as Prime Minister with Armenian President Armen Sarkissian on May 8 in the President’s Office.

“I would like to wish you that you form the government as soon as possible and engage in the solution of all the issues which face our state, government, entire people and this country — the Republic of Armenia. My best wishes to you and good luck,” Sarkissian said, congratulating Pashinyan at the meeting, the President’s Office said.

Celebrating in the Streets

Pashinyan, who will turn 43 on June 1, received a hero’s welcome when he headed to Republic Square, the main venue of the protests, later in the afternoon. “You won today,” he told the jubilant crowd chanting “Nikol!” and “Victory!”

“The victory is not my being elected prime minister,” he added. “The victory is the fact that it’s you who have decided who must be prime minister of Armenia.”

“From now on the people must take care that all officials honestly serve the people, otherwise, they will take their step as they did in 2018. By assuming the post of the PM I announce that I serve the Armenian people, the citizens of Armenia, the Republic of Artsakh and the Republic of Armenia. Long live freedom, long live the Republic of Armenia, long live we and our children who already live in free and happy Armenia,” the PM said.

The rally, which also featured speeches by two prominent artists supporting the protest movement, was followed by a live concert.

Pashinyan, is a former journalist who edited the newspaper Haykakan Zhamanak, from 1999 to 2012. He also has a long history of political activism. He first ran for the parliament in 2007 as the top candidate of an opposition group that challenged then President Robert Kocharyan. The group called Impeachment failed to win any parliament seats.

Pashinyan went on to play a major role in a broad-based opposition movement launched by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition candidate in a hotly disputed presidential election held in February 2008. The vote marred by reports of serious fraud formalized the handover of power from Kocharyan to Serzh Sargsyan.

Pashinyan went into hiding following the deadly suppression on March 1-2, 2008 of post-election protests in Yerevan. He surrendered to law-enforcement authorities in July 2009 and was subsequently tried and sentenced to seven years in prison on charges stemming from the unrest. Like other Ter-Petrosian allies, he was released from jail in May 2011 under a general amnesty declared by the Sargsyan administration.

A year later Pashinyan was elected to the National Assembly on the ticket of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK). He subsequently fell out with the ex-president and set up his own party, Civil Contract.

Civil Contract and two other opposition parties, Bright Armenia and Republic, set up an alliance called Yelk (Exit) ahead of Armenia’s last parliamentary elections held in April 2017. Yelk won 9 parliament seats.

Both Bright Armenia and Republic refused to support Pashinyan when he embarked on his campaign aimed at preventing Sargsyan from becoming prime minister and thus extending his decade-long rule. They said that he will fail to attract large crowds.

Pashinyan began the unexpectedly successful campaign in Armenia second largest city of Gyumri on March 31. He returned to Yerevan on foot on April 13 after walking more than 200 kilometers through the country’s northern and central regions in an effort to drum up popular support for his cause.

Congratulations from Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday swiftly congratulated Pashinyan on becoming Armenia’s prime minister and said he expects Russian-Armenian ties to grow even closer.

“I expect that your work as the head of government will contribute to further strengthening the friendly, allied relations between our countries, our partnership as part of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” Putin said in a congratulatory message to Pashinyan cited by the Kremlin.

Russia has closely watched the political turmoil in Armenia.

Putin telephoned Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian and acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan in the immediate aftermath of Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation. He and other Russian officials have been careful not to publicly take sides in the Armenian standoff.

“We hope that in any case the allied, warm and constructive Russian-Armenian relations will remain a constant for both the foreign policy of our country and the foreign policy of Yerevan,” Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said late last week.

Pashinyan has repeatedly stated that he will not pull Armenia out of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the CSTO. He told visiting Russian parliamentarians on April 29 that Russian-Armenian ties will only deepen as a result of regime change in Yerevan.

Pashinyan had previously harshly criticized Armenia’s membership in both Russian-led blocs. “We now have new political realities and must reckon with them,” responded Pashinyan. A “drastic” change in Armenia foreign policy would only hurt the country, he said.

Pashinyan reaffirmed his commitment to “strategic allied relations with Russia” when he again addressed fellow lawmakers just before Tuesday’s parliament vote.

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