Armenia will have a new prime minister on May 8 as the ruling Republican Party announced it will support whichever candidate gets nominated by one-third of parliamentarians.
Nikol Pashinyan, a 42-year-old former journalist, is so far the only opposition candidate and appears set to become Armenia’s next leader.
Vahram Baghdasaryan, head of the party’s parliamentary faction, made the announcement to the media following a closed session in parliament, adding the Republicans won’t nominate their own candidate.
“That means effectively on May 8, Nikol Pashinyan would be elected prime minister if everything goes according to plan,” Maria Titizian, a journalist at EVN report, told Al Jazeera.
With their latest announcement, the Republican Party appears to have backed down from its initial opposition to Pashinyan.
On Tuesday, Republican MPs rejected his bid for prime minister on a 55-45 vote, deepening a political crisis after two weeks of anti-government protests that forced the prime minister to resign.
Following Tuesday’s vote, Pashinyan called for a nationwide peaceful campaign of civil disobedience.
On Wednesday tens of thousands of people protested nationwide in Armenia blocking roads and government buildings, paralysing the capital Yerevan in support of Pashinyan.
“I think the Republican Party did not clearly understand what was happening in the streets. They did not understand the power of the people that, for the past three weeks now have incessantly and unequivocally voiced their discontent and sometimes their outward hatred towards the Republican Party,” Titizian said.
Armenia’s acting Minister of Culture Armen Amiryan resigned from his post on Wednesday.
Mass demonstrations led by Pashinyan forced prime minister Serzh Sargsyan to resign last week just days after he was named to the post.
Sargsyan was Armenia’s president for 10 years before stepping down due to term limits. He became prime minister amid a change in government structure that boosts the post’s powers, and opponents said the shift would allow him to remain the country’s leader indefinitely.
Following the Republicans’ announcement, Pashinyan on Wednesday called an end to a wave of protests and said all parties would support his bid to run for prime minister again next week.
“The issue has practically been solved,” he told tens of thousands of people during a rally in Yerevan.
“All factions said they would support my candidacy… We are suspending protests and going to have a rest.”
‘Revolution will win’
On Wednesday, 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.
Protesters paralysed the capital Yerevan by blocking some routes into the capital and the road to the airport. Demonstrators marched through the streets shouting “Nikol! Victory!” waving flags and blowing horns.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Yerevan, Pashinyan said “the movement, the revolution will win and it is just a matter of time”.
Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan speaks to Al Jazeera
“We are doing this to show that the Republican Party has has no power left in Armenia. There’s no Armenia for the Republican Party to govern,” he said.
“After yesterday’s event in the parliament, the circle of our supporters became larger and today’s scale of civil disobedience is much bigger than two days ago.”
Pashinyan, known for wearing camoflouge T-shirts, spent two years in jail for fomenting unrest after an election in 2008.
“Now people are not fighting for me. Everyone is fighting and standing up for their own dignity, their own family, their rights, their future and the future of their children,” he said.
|Pashinyan addresses supporters in Yerevan after the parliamentary vote [Gleb Garanich/Reuters]|
‘Insult to people’
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 said the ruling Republican Party’s decision not to back his candidacy was an “insult to the people”.
His backers on the streets on Wednesday said the ruling elite had lost popular support and should now step aside.
“We won’t allow the government to ignore us,” said Mariam Abajyan, a 27-year-old unemployed woman protesting in Yerevan.
“We will paralyse the whole city and the whole country,” said Sargis Babayan, a 22-year-old student.
Not all Armenians back the protests. Some see Pashinyan as a demagogue trying to oust democratically elected leaders by whipping up public anger.
“The country can’t exist like this. I couldn’t get to work today and called in to say that I wouldn’t come,” said Zhanna Petrosyan, a 56-year-old doctor.
Another attempt to elect a new prime minister is due on May 8, the parliamentary press service said. If parliament fails a second time, the constitution requires early parliamentary elections to be held.