Armenian parliament set to elect Sarkissian as national president
YEREVAN – Reuters
Sarkissian’s election to a single seven-year term is unopposed because the ruling Republican Party supports him even though he is not a member of any party. One opposition party says it will back him while another has failed to gather sufficient votes to present its own candidate.
Armenia seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991 but remains dependent on Russia for aid and investment. Many Armenians accuse the government of corruption and mishandling an economy that has struggled to overcome the legacy of central planning.
The country is in line with some other former Soviet republics and countries in eastern Europe in moving away from direct democracy and towards strong central leadership, according to analysts.
Sargsyan became president at an election in 2008 and nominated former prime minister Sarkissian in January to succeed him as his term neared its end.
Sarkissian, 64, is a businessman and Yerevan’s ambassador to Britain and the president said he had chosen him because of his experience as a diplomat and manager.
The legislature can elect a president with a three-quarters majority under the terms of a constitution approved in 2015 in a referendum that effectively abolishes direct presidential elections.
Under that constitution, however, the presidency will become largely ceremonial and power will shift to the prime minister and parliament.
“Everything has been done to create a ‘super premier’ ... who will have the same rights as the current president and even more,” opposition MP Edmond Marukyan told reporters.
Sargsyan denies that the new constitution was engineered to allow him to continue to dominate Armenia, a country of around 3 million people.
But many members of the ruling party say Sargsyan would be the best candidate for prime minister given his experience, especially in negotiations over neighboring Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Fighting between ethnic Azeris and Armenian separatists backed by Armenia first erupted in 1991 and a ceasefire was agreed in 1994.
But Azerbaijan and Armenia accuse each other of violence around Nagorno-Karabakh and along their common border.
Clashes over control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies inside Azerbaijan but is controlled by ethnic Armenians, have intensified in the past three years and turned into a violent flare-up of the conflict in April 2016.
The ruling party won parliamentary elections last April with 49 percent of the vote while the opposition Tsarukyan Alliance took 27 percent.