Tens of thousands of people joined nationwide protests in Armenia, blocking roads and government buildings, after the parliament failed to elect opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan as the country’s interim prime minister.
The ruling Republican Party voted against Pashinyan during a special parliamentary session on Tuesday, deepening a political crisis after two weeks of anti-government protests.
Following the vote, Pashinyan called for a nationwide peaceful campaign of civil disobedience.
Protesters on Wednesday paralysed Yerevan by blocking some routes into the capital and the road to the airport.
A sector-wide strike was also announced, with airport staff, construction workers, medical staff, university students and professors joining the protests.
There are also reports of regional government offices in Armenia’s second-largest city of Gyumri being blockaded.
Local media reported that protesters were opening the roads for ambulances, police and the military to not harm the security of the people and the country.
“We have seen significant disruption to traffic, to the road and they have blocked access to the international airport and tourists are struggling to get home from their holiday,” said Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Yerevan.
He added that Pashinyan said that the airport blockade would be lifted later on Wednesday afternoon.
“The crisis here has gone up a notch; it’s deepening and it’s changing,” Forestier-Walker said. “We’re at the stage where it’s difficult to predict how this may go because the opposition has said it is going to remain peaceful”.
“But at some point, they are going to have to figure out how to move things forward and really force the Republican Party to acknowledge that they have the public support and the supremacy,” he said.
Stepan Sargsyan, a youth protester, told Al Jazeera that he believes that “sooner or later, the Republican Party will understand that the power belongs to the people and this is what the people want and they will understand and acknowledge the fact that they have to elect Pashinyan as prime minister.
“I’m not concerned that the authorities will act harsh against protesters,” he added. “We are peaceful and we are so united, optimistic and positive. We are not doing anything wrong, we are just claiming that the power belongs to us and that the government should act the way the people want”.
Another parliamentary vote will take place on May 8. If legislators fail to elect a prime minister again, snap elections will be called.
According to Forestier-Walker, the opposition is considering a boycott of that vote, because, without Pashinyan as the interim prime minister, they will not have the opportunity to reform the electoral system and the electoral code to enable free and fair elections.
|Pashinyan addresses supporters in Yerevan after the parliamentary vote [Gleb Garanich/Reuters]|
‘Insult to people’
The 42-year-old Pashinyan was the sole candidate in Tuesday’s parliamentary vote but could not secure the necessary support of 53 legislators.
Legislators voted 45 in favour to 55 against, with the ruling Republican Party rejecting Pashinyan’s candidacy during the hours-long extraordinary session in parliament.
Pashinyan, who led the protests that forced Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan to resign last week, said the ruling Republican Party’s decision not to back his candidacy was an “insult to the people”.
He was greeted by a jubilant crowd of tens of thousands in Yerevan after losing the vote. Upon calling for the campaign of civil disobedience, he said the protest would be peaceful and urged police to put down their shields and join his movement.
Syuzanna Petrosyan, from the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, told Al Jazeera the constitution provides a seven-day period to vote again on a new leader, otherwise parliament will be dissolved and new elections must be held.
Pashinyan had secured the support of all opposition factions in the parliament but needed votes from members of the ruling coalition to obtain a majority vote.
“Mr Pashinyan, you’re a good parliament member, but not qualified for prime minister,” Arman Saghatelyan, a member of the Republican Party of Armenia, said in his speech to parliament.
In advance of the session, Pashinyan urged supporters to take to the streets on Tuesday to pressure parliament to choose him as prime minister and warned the ruling elite about the consequences of clinging to power.
“You would think that in the situation that has unfolded conclusions would have been drawn, but the Republican Party has started to play cat-and-mouse with the people,” said Pashinyan, who swapped his usual camouflage T-shirt for a suit and tie.
Addressing Republican Party officials, he warned: “Your behaviour – treating the tolerance of the people as a weakness – could become the cause of a tsunami.”
Between 30,000 and 40,000 people gathered at Republic Square in Yerevan to follow the parliamentary session on large television screens.