Armenian Protest Leader Loses Bid For Premier, Warns Of A ‘Political Tsunami’

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Nikol Pashinyan’s supporters packed a square Tuesday in the capital, Yerevan, after lawmakers rejected the opposition leader’s bid for prime minister. Pashinyan is calling for a campaign of civil disobedience in protest. Vano Shlamov/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Vano Shlamov/AFP/Getty Images

Nikol Pashinyan’s supporters packed a square Tuesday in the capital, Yerevan, after lawmakers rejected the opposition leader’s bid for prime minister. Pashinyan is calling for a campaign of civil disobedience in protest.

Vano Shlamov/AFP/Getty Images

Just minutes after midnight Wednesday, Nikol Pashinyan stepped in front of a huge crowd in Armenia’s capital, microphone in hand. Not long before, lawmakers had rejected the opposition leader’s bid for prime minister — the only one officially in the running — after he was grilled for hours in parliament Tuesday.

Now he was speaking to a different crowd: tens of thousands of his supporters packing a square in downtown Yerevan. After weeks of anti-government rallies which led to the ouster of the previous prime minister, longtime leader Serzh Sargsyan, Pashinyan told the crowd he was not giving up.

“We will block the streets, the airports, the metro, the railway, everything that can be blocked,” he told them, according to a Reuters translation. “If everyone participates in a total act of civil disobedience, this will be a total victory of the people of Armenia. Our struggle is a struggle of non-violence, it is a peaceful act of civil disobedience.”

Nikol Pashinyan, the only candidate for prime minister, answers lawmakers’ questions at the extraordinary session of parliament Tuesday. Lawmakers later rejected him, leaving the post vacant. Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images

Nikol Pashinyan, the only candidate for prime minister, answers lawmakers’ questions at the extraordinary session of parliament Tuesday. Lawmakers later rejected him, leaving the post vacant.

Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images

Pashinyan’s call for a general strike came shortly after the 42-year old former journalist saw his candidacy stamped out by Sargsyan’s ruling Republican Party. Ultimately, his bid failed to win the required majority, with most of his fellow lawmakers preferring to leave the post of prime minister vacant rather than give Pashinyan the job.

“Mr. Pashinyan, you’re a good parliament member,” said Republican Party member Arman Saghatelyan, according to Al Jazeera, “but not qualified for prime minister.”

The Armenian constitution dictates that the government now has seven days to hold another election. If lawmakers fail again to decide on a new prime minister themselves, this current parliament will be dissolved and Armenian voters will have the chance to replace them all in a general election.

It appears that many in the crowd backing Pashinyan, while disappointed with the day’s result, eagerly welcomed an opportunity to cast their own ballots.

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The demonstrators are fresh off weeks of protests against Sargsyan, a two-term president whose shift to prime minister earlier this year they viewed as a cynical attempt to evade term limits. Led by Pashinyan, the protesters blocked major thoroughfares and surrounded government buildings until Sargsyan finally ceded to their objections and stepped down.

“The movement in the streets is against my tenure,” he said in a statement last month. “I comply with your demand.”

Now, the protesters have turned to another cause: Pashinyan’s election.

On Tuesday, shortly before his bid failed, Pashinyan had threatened a “political tsunami” in the country of 3 million if he were not elected. By the time night fell, several protesters attending the rally were already echoing the sentiment.

“They spat on us but we’re not going to tolerate this,” a baker attending the post-election rally for Pashinyan told The Associated Press. “This government just won’t resign on its own will. It’s tens of thousands of us, and we need them to go. We can’t take this anymore.”

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