YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Responding to an appeal from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, thousands of people began gathering in Yerevan late on Tuesday after the Armenian parliament hastily passed a bill that could seriously complicate his plans to force snap general elections.
Deputies representing not only Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) but also the Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Dashnaktsutyun parties backed the bill despite Pashinian’s warnings not to “again create a revolutionary situation in the country.”
“Those forces that participated in the drafting of that bill and were going to vote for it are exposing themselves as counterrevolutionary forces,” Pashinian said after meeting with the HHK’s parliamentary leaders. “All those who will vote for or back this bill will declare a political war against the people.”
Pashinian urged supporters to rally outside the parliament building when the parliament majority ignored the warning. They were quick to gather there and block the entrances to the National Assembly. The premier was due to address the crowd later in the evening.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK spokesman and a deputy parliament speaker, insisted that the bill is not aimed at preventing the conduct of snap parliamentary elections. He said it is only meant to protect lawmakers against outside “pressures.”
“The National Assembly is an independent body and its members are free to vote in accordance with their conscience,” Sharmazanov told reporters. He accused Pashinian of interfering in the work of the legislature.
Under the Armenian constitution, fresh polls can be held only if the prime minister resigns and the parliament fails to replace him or her within two weeks.
Some observers suggested earlier that in case of Pashinian’s tactical resignation his supporters will blockade the parliament to prevent it from electing another premier during the two-week period. The controversial bill effectively extended that period indefinitely.