Pashinyan Calls Off Mass Protests As Path To Candidacy Clears In Armenian Election

Armenia will gain a new prime minister on May 8, as the country’s ruling Republican Party has announced it will support whichever candidate can obtain a nomination by at least one-third of Members of Parliament (MPs). Nikol Pashinyan, a 42-year-old former journalist, is the only opposition candidate and is determined to become Armenia’s next leader. Vahram Baghdasaryan, head of the Republican Party’s parliamentary faction, made the announcement following a closed session in parliament, adding that the party will not be nominating their own candidate. “That means effectively on May 8, Nikol Pashinyan would be elected prime minister if everything goes according to plan,” Maria Titizian, a journalist at EVN report, told Al Jazeera.

The Republican Party appears to have backed down from its initial opposition to Pashinyan after the announcement. On Tuesday, Republican MPs rejected Pashinyan’s bid for prime minister on a 55-45 vote. He was the sole candidate in Tuesday’s parliamentary vote but could not obtain the support of 53 legislators – the necessary amount to win. Pashinyan said the ruling Republican Party’s decision to not back his candidacy was an “insult to the people.”

The Tuesday vote against Pashinyan deepened a political crisis after two weeks of anti-government protests that forced the previous prime minister to resign. Mass demonstrations led by Pashinyan forced Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan to resign last week. Sargsyan was Armenia’s president for 10 years before stepping down due to term limits. He became prime minister amid a change in government structure that would boost his powers, and opponents said the shift would allow him to remain the country’s leader indefinitely.

Following Tuesday’s vote, Pashinyan called for a nationwide peaceful protest on Wednesday. Tens of thousands of people protested across Armenia, blocking roads, government buildings, and paralyzing the capital Yerevan to show support for Pashinyan. Demonstrators marched through the streets shouting “Nikol! Victory!” while waving flags and blowing horns. “I think the Republican Party did not clearly understand what was happening in the streets. They did not understand the power of the people that, for the past three weeks now have incessantly and unequivocally voiced their discontent and sometimes their outward hatred towards the Republican Party,” Titizian said.

Following the Republicans’ announcement on needing to gain only one-third support, Pashinyan called for an end to the wave of protests on Wednesday and said all parties would support him next week. “The issue has practically been solved,” he told tens of thousands of people during a rally in Yerevan. “All factions said they would support my candidacy. We are suspending protests and going to have a rest. We are doing this to show that the Republican Party has no power left in Armenia. There’s no Armenia for the Republican Party to govern,” he said. “After yesterday’s event in the parliament, the circle of our supporters became larger and today’s scale of civil disobedience is much bigger than two days ago. Now people are not fighting for me. Everyone is fighting and standing up for their own dignity, their own family, their rights, their future and the future of their children.”

The new attempt to elect a prime minister is due on May 8, the parliamentary press service said. If parliament fails a second time, the constitution requires early parliamentary elections to be held.

Hallie Kielb