YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia’s new parliament elected last month almost unanimously chose a close associate of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian as its speaker at its inaugural session held on Monday.
The new speaker, Ararat Mirzoyan, is a 39-year-old former scholar who became the country’s first deputy prime minister following last spring’s mass protests that brought Pashinian to power. He is a founding senior member of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, the dominant force in the My Step alliance that swept to a landslide victory in the December 9 parliamentary elections.
Mirzoyan was backed by 131 of the 132 members of the National Election in secret ballot. He was nominated for the top parliamentary post by My Step and endorsed by the two other parties represented in the legislature: Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Bright Armenia.
“We are electing you as National Assembly speaker but we don’t know what kind of a speaker you will be,” Bright Armenia leader Edmon Marukian told Mirzoyan before the vote. Marukian expressed hope that he will act like an “impartial arbiter” in his new capacity.
Speaking during a parliament debate on his candidacy, Mirzoyan pledged to strive for a stronger “parliamentary oversight” of the government and said he will be “open to dialogue” with the opposition minority. At the same time he urged the BHK and Bright Armenia to “work together” with the government instead of “confronting” it on every issue.
Later on Monday, the parliament began discussing candidates for the three posts of deputy speaker. Two of them will be held by other senior My Step figures: Lena Nazarian and Alen Simonian.
The Armenian constitution reserves the third post of deputy speaker for a representative of the parliamentary opposition. My Step confirmed that its 88 deputies have been instructed to vote for a BHK candidate, Vahe Enfiajian, on Tuesday.
Senior representatives of Pashinian’s bloc argued that the BHK is the second largest parliamentary force controlling 26 seats, compared with 18 seats held by Bright Armenia.
Marukian dismissed this explanation, saying that the constitution says nothing about the size of an opposition faction nominating a vice-speaker. He said that unlike Enfiajian, Bright Armenia’s candidate for the job, Mane Tandilian, would be widely perceived as a “real opposition.”
Tandilian served as minister of labor and social affairs in Pashinian’s cabinet until this month.