Armenian Opposition Leader Pauses Protests, With New Hope For Prime Minister Bid

May 2, 2018
Originally published on May 8, 2018 10:41 am

Just one day after rejecting an influential opposition leader's bid to become prime minister, Armenia's ruling party appears ready to relent.

At a rally in the capital city of Yerevan, Nikol Pashinyan told his supporters Wednesday that Republican Party lawmakers expressed willingness to back his candidacy — and he called on those supporters to pause a general strike that had lasted less than 24 hours.

"Tomorrow," he said, according to The Associated Press, "we will work in parliament."

The announcement marks an abrupt pivot for the country, where tensions just hours earlier seemed about to boil over — with tens of thousands of protesters heeding Pashinyan's call to block major roadways, interrupt railway service and cut access to Armenia's main international airport.

And all with one main goal in mind: The demonstrators want Pashinyan, the 42-year-old former journalist who has led weeks of protests against the ruling party, to replace the man he helped oust last month, Serzh Sargsyan.

Sargsyan, who spent a decade as president before being term-limited out of office earlier this year, was elected by the National Assembly to slide into the role of prime minister — but he resigned not long afterward, under pressure from protesters who saw the move as a cynical ploy to evade term limits.

That left Pashinyan as the sole candidate for prime minster.

But Sargsyan's Republican Party doomed Pashinyan's bid by withholding its support during Tuesday's vote — leaving Pashinyan short of the required majority. The party controls a majority in the country's parliamentary body, the National Assembly, and the National Assembly, in turn, elects the prime minister.

Lawmakers must hold another election within seven days. If they should fail again to award one candidate a majority of votes for prime minister, the lawmaking body will be dissolved and replaced via a general election.

The standoff might not get that far, however.

On Wednesday, as protests roiled cities across the country, the head of the party's caucus appeared more open to a second bid by Pashinyan when the National Assembly holds another vote next week.

Vahram Baghdasarya, in an attempt to quell what he called an "unacceptable situation," said his party won't field a candidate of its own but will support any candidate nominated by one-third of parliament — though Baghdasarya didn't mention Pashinyan by name.

The implications were clear to Pashinyan, though. He believes that he already has enough support to meet that threshold. Local media report that he expects three parliamentary parties to renominate him for prime minister Thursday.

"The movement, the revolution will win and it is just a matter of time," Pashinyan told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

"Now people are not fighting for me," he added. "Everyone is fighting and standing up for their own dignity, their own family, their rights, their future and the future of their children

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.