26 Apr 2018 – 14:15
By YURAS KARMANAU and AVET DEMOURIAN | AP
YEREVAN, Armenia: The Armenian parliament on Thursday called for an extraordinary session next week to vote for a new prime minister after the country was plunged into a political crisis with the abrupt resignation of its leader.
Serzh Sargsyan, who ruled the country for 10 years, surprised many when he stepped down as prime minister Monday amid massive anti-government protests.
Parliament said in a statement that a vote will be held on May 1 to elect a new leader, potentially spelling a way out of the post-Soviet nation’s biggest political crisis in years.
Nikol Pashinian, who leads the opposition and wants to be nominated for prime minister, held talks earlier Thursday with parliamentary factions to secure support for his candidacy.
Sargsyan’s party still holds a majority in the parliament, however.
Sargsyan won two presidential terms by a landslide before moving to the role of prime minister earlier this year. The population of this impoverished nation, however, has been disappointed by the perceived cronyism of Sargsyan, and rampant corruption. The opposition rallies that began two weeks ago focused on protesting against what was seen as Sargsyan’s attempt to stay in power indefinitely.
Tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied in the Armenian capital Yerevan Wednesday, calling for Pashinian to become prime minister.
Protesters Thursday morning blocked traffic on major roads in and outside Yerevan before retreating.
Pashinian is calling another major protest in Yerevan Thursday as an apparent show of popular support for the opposition.
“Protests will grow throughout Armenia until authorities can hear us,” he said.
The Kremlin is watching its small but strategic ally, where Russia has a military base, with concern. Moscow, however, has showed restraint in its reaction, insisting that the demonstrations are a domestic matter for Armenia to sort out.
The Kremlin said Thursday President Vladimir Putin discussed the crisis on the phone with Armenian President Armen Sarkisian, Sargsyan’s ally. On Wednesday, Russia’s ambassador to Yerevan met with Pashinian.