Last night, as Americans reeled from the shock of Paul Ryan’s decision to step down from one of the most powerful roles in his nation’s government after just two and a half years, nearly 6,000 miles away, Armenian citizens seemed curiously unfazed at headlines reading that their nation’s most powerful figure for the last decade—in a virtuosic circumnavigation of constitutional law—will almost certainly continue his leadership over the country.
This Monday, former Armenian President Serge Sarkisian stepped down from the presidency (and in celebration, opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan planted a “farewell tree”), but his tenure as a private citizen was short-lived. Late on Wednesday, the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) confirmed that it will nominate Sarkisian to be the country’s next prime minister—a role that has been made even more powerful by the controversial 2015 referendum, which switched the country from presidential system of governance to a parliamentary one. The role of president, which is now occupied by President Armen Sarkissian, is rendered largely ceremonial role by this change. The role of prime minister will be solidified when parliament takes a vote on April 17.
For reference, the RPA, which makes up 58 of the 105 seats in Armenia’s parliament. The RPA is part of a coalition with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a statedly socialist, nationalist party founded in Tbilisi in 1890, and out of whose roots this newspaper was born. The ARF holds seven seats in congress, giving the coalition 65 potential votes.
The remaining 40 seats in parliament are occupied by opposition parties, one of which is the “Tsarukyan Alliance,” made up of the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), founded by businessman and oligarch, Gagik Tsarukyan, the Alliance and Mission parties(31 seats). The other is the “Yelk” Faction (in English, “Way Out”), a coalition of three liberal parties who came together prior to the 2017 Parliamentary election. They hold nine seats.
Two senior members of the Tsarukyan’s Alliance asked their party not to vote for Sarkisian’s appointment as Armenia’s new prime minister. One of the bloc’s leading parliamentarians, Sergey Bagratian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service, “Should an opposition faction vote for the government’s candidate or not? It’s a simple question. Naturally, if you are in opposition you will vote against the government’s candidate.” It is yet to be determined if the rest of the party will follow suit.
Meanwhile, yesterday, in a bizarre display of protest, two opposition deputies set off smoke flares during a session of parliament, hoping to attract public attention to join their demonstrations against Serge Sarkisian’s continued rule this Friday at Liberty Square.
“Free citizens of the Republic of Armenia, the time has come to prevent Serge Sarkisian’s third term in office, put an end to [RPA] rule and build Armenia of our dreams,” cried Ararat Mirzoyan of the “Yelk” party. Other “Yelk” deputies did not appear to condone the gesture, an indicator that there may be increasing divisions within their already small front.