Armenia Risks Further Unrest After Protest Leader Rejected as PM

(Bloomberg) -- Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan failed in his attempt to become prime minister after the ruling Republican party refused to back his candidacy despite massive street demonstrations backing him.

Pashinyan, who’s termed the protest movement a “velvet revolution,” gained 45 votes, eight short of the majority he needed to become premier in place of Armenia’s longtime ruler, Serzh Sargysan, who resigned last week as tens of thousands joined opposition demonstrations. The result means parliament will vote again in a week. A repeat of the result would trigger early elections. In the meantime, further civil unrest is likely.

“Our counter-operations will be very quick -- we’re announcing a total labor and student strike,” Pashinyan told supporters gathered on the capital, Yerevan’s central square on Tuesday. “I want you to know that our struggle can’t end without victory; there’s no other alternative.”

Parliament’s decision threatens to plunge the tiny Caucasus nation deeper into political crisis. Tens of thousands of protesters backed Pashinyan, who’d warned that the Republicans may try to retain power and thwart his candidacy. Amid public anger at poverty and corruption, Pashinyan led protests last month to oust Sargsyan, who sought to prolong his decade-long rule by switching jobs following constitutional changes that concentrated power in the premier’s hands.

There are also potential implications beyond Armenia’s borders. Russia, which has close political and economic ties with the former Soviet republic as well as a key military base there, has complained in the past about revolutions in what it deems its back yard, alleging meddling by Western powers.

‘Ultimatums, Expletives’

As tensions spiraled, President Armen Sarkissian sought to mediate. Pashinyan warned that his supporters would blockade the parliament if the Republicans nominated acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan to succeed Sargsyan. Karapetyan would remain in office until the elections if parliament fails to appoint Pashinyan next week.

The Republicans announced at the weekend that the party wouldn’t nominate a candidate, though it remained unclear before the vote whether they’d accept Pashinyan. The Republicans hold 58 of parliament’s 105 seats, while Pashinyan’s Yelk, or Way Out, coalition only has nine.

“Ultimatums and expletives aren’t the way to take political decisions,” Vahram Baghdasaryan, leader of the Republicans’ parliamentary faction told Pashinyan.

President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Karapetyan last week and stressed the importance of respecting the results of 2017 parliamentary elections, which gave the Republicans its majority, according to a Kremlin statement.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.