YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian on Monday said that the Armenian parliament will almost certainly elect him prime minister and urged supporters to celebrate his victory in Yerevan’s central square.
He told them to gather at Republic Square at 11 a.m. on Tuesday one hour before the start of an extraordinary session of the Armenian parliament during which lawmakers will vote for the new premier.
Pashinian, who is a leader of the opposition Yelk alliance, is the only candidate nominated by parliamentary forces for the country’s top executive post. Three of them — Yelk, the Tsarukian Bloc, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation — have officially endorsed him, while the ruling Republican Party (HHK) has pledged not to “obstruct” his candidacy. The HHK controls 58 of the 105 seats in the National Assembly.
The parliament vote will come one week after massive protests organized by Pashinian’s opposition movement forced Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian to resign. Sarkisian was elected prime minister on April 17, nine days after completing his second presidential term. The end of his presidency completed Armenia’s switch to a parliamentary system of government.
“The Armenian people will be celebrating their victory here,” Pashinian told thousands of people who again gathered at Republic Square.
He said they will be able to watch Tuesday’s parliament session live from giant screens to be placed there in the morning. He stressed that they must not block streets or march to the parliament building or any other locations in the city center from the square.
Pashinian had earlier urged supporters to “flood the streets and squares” of the capital and surround the parliament building during the session.
The 42-year-old former journalist has repeatedly said that he intends to serve as prime minister in the interim, until the holding of fresh parliamentary elections demanded by his movement as well as several other political groups. It remains unclear when such polls might take place. Pashinian has said that he is ready to discuss their possible dates with the HHK and other parliamentary forces.
Pashinian faced tough questions from members of the pro-government majority on Monday as he tried to secure their backing for his bid to become the country’s prime minister.
Senior lawmakers from the ruling Republican Party (HHK) pounced on his past harsh criticisms of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and his current pledges not to pull Armenia of the Russian-led blocs.
Pashinian met with the HHK’s parliamentary faction in the presence of journalists. “Our immediate task is to turn the page of political feud and create an atmosphere of solidarity based on law,” Pashinian said before answering questions from the parliament majority members.
Some of them cited his earlier denunciations of the Sarkisian administration’s decision to make Armenia part of the EEU and his claims that membership in the Russian-led trade bloc is very bad for the country. They repeatedly challenged him to explain why he is now making very different statements on the subject.
“We now have new political realities and must reckon with them,” Pashinian kept saying. A “drastic” change in Armenia foreign policy would only hurt the country, he argued.
Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker, remained unconvinced. “You have just proved very well that the foreign policy of the Armenian government has stemmed from Armenia’s national interests and that our accession to the Eurasian Union served those interests,” he said.
Armen Ashotian, another senior HHK lawmaker, likewise said Pashinian must now admit that he was wrong and that Sarkisian’s foreign policy decisions were justified.
The HHK’s Samvel Farmanian demanded, for his part, further clarifications of Pashinian’s position on Armenia’s broader relations with Russia Pashinian assured him that just like the current government he regards Russian-Armenian ties as a “strategic alliance.”
Answering other questions, Pashinian would not say who will be given key ministerial posts in his cabinet if he is elected prime minister. He promised only that he would form a “government of accord” and avoid staff “purges.” He also insisted that a smooth handover of power to his movement will significantly accelerate economic growth in the country.
The HHK’s Gagik Melikian disagreed, saying that the daily protests across the country are on the contrary taking a heavy toll on the Armenian economy. “People must have no hopes for a better life for the next seven or eight years,” he claimed.
“I don’t share your pessimism and think that there will be quick and tangible changes,” responded Pashinian. He said a “lack of justice and rule of law” are the main hurdles to faster growth and that he would act quickly to eliminate them.
The HHK faction met behind the closed doors after the question and answer session with Pashinian.