Armenia opposition leader calls for popular support ahead of crucial vote

Armenian opposition leader and parliament member Nikol Pashinyan speaks during a press conference at the Marriott Hotel in Yerevan, Armenia, 27 April 2018. [Vahram Baghdasaryan/EPA/EFE]

Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan was formally nominated on Monday (30 April) for the post of prime minister by his supporters, inching closer to victory after two weeks of mass protests that have transformed the country’s political landscape.

The leader of the protest movement that ousted the country’s veteran leader Serzh Sargsyan last week, Pashinyan is the only candidate in the running for the premiership and insists that only he can rid Armenia of corruption, poverty and nepotism.

However, he still needs a handful of votes from the ruling Republican Party — which has a majority of seats in parliament — to seal his victory in a vote by lawmakers tomorrow (1 May).

The party headed by the ousted prime minister Sargsyan has yet to announce its official stance on the vote, even though a senior lawmaker, Vahram Baghdasaryan, has said it would not stand in the way of Pashinyan’s candidacy.

Pashinyan announced the nomination by his Elk coalition, speaking to journalists in parliament, where he was engaged in “consultations with all political factions.”

“We are facing the task of resolving the political crisis in the country,” he said.

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied in the capital Yerevan on Sunday, hoping that a massive show of strength would propel their leader to power in the crucial parliamentary vote.

EURACTIV spoke on the phone to Yuri Manvelyan, the co-founder and editor of Epress.am, who said Pashinyan’s nomination was not the end of the story. The Republicans, the force of the former leader Sargsyan, which has the majority, could cheat and not vote for Pashinyan, he said.

“Pashinyan said of all of us should be in the street, to be near the parliament, to show strength and determination. He said we will have a government for two or three months and then new elections will be held,” Manvelyan said.

“So this is just the beginning of getting rid of the Republicans. They are still the ruling force, they control business, media, and in comparison, Pashinyan has only the street,” he said, adding that no one knows how the opposition will change things, who will be the new police chief, who will be the minister of defence or the foreign minister.

“We don’t know. Pashinyan has a team, but it’s not so big”, the journalist said.

Asked if geopolitics had something to do with the protests, Manvelyan said they were only an anti-corruption movement.

He said the media had tried to speculate about anti-Russian moods in the protests, and that Russian media like to label as ‘Maidan’ every opposition movement in post-Soviet countries. But he added that rather surprisingly, this time Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, said that this was Armenia’s internal affair, that Moscow saw no anti-Russian aspects and that Pashinyan was really balanced about Russia.

Pashinyan has said that it was not possible to have stability in Armenia on the basis of an anti-Russian administration. “He said clearly Russian influence in Armenia will not change,” Manvelyan reminded.

According to him, Russian propagandist media were extra careful this time. “I watched the most aggressive NTV channel, and they were really balanced,” he said.

Asked about the difficult relations with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and the possible military risks, he said that some ten days ago, while Sargsyan was trying to stick to power, there were reports of the Armenian military who started shooting in Nagorno-Karabakh, but the Azeri side didn’t answer.

“Azerbaijan keeps silent, that’s very interesting. My friends, colleagues in Azerbaijan, told me they pray for our movement because for them it represents hope for a change. I don’t think we will see escalation because war in Nagorno-Karabakh can start only if [the country’s President] Ilham Aliyev is in a risky situation. If he were at risk of losing power, Nagorno-Karabakh would be used as a last resort. But Aliyev is OK now, he is really powerful,” Manvelyan added.

Armenia and Azerbaijan simultaneously re-boot their leaders

Armenia’s Serzh Sargsyan was nominated yesterday (11 April) to be the country’s prime minister, days after he stepped down as president. On the same Azerbaijan strongman Ilham Aliyev secured a fourth consecutive term in an early election.

 

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