Ruling party in Armenia withdraws from PM race

Yerevan: Armenia’s ruling party on Saturday refused to nominate a new candidate for premier to replace veteran ruler Serzh Sarkisian after he was accused of a power grab and forced to quit following mass rallies. Ex-Soviet Armenia has been in the grip of a severe political crisis for the past two weeks with the protest movement charging that Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party is clinging to power.
“The Republican Party has decided not to nominate its candidate,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, vice speaker of parliament and the ruling party’s spokesman, citing the interests of the people. The party will wait until all candidates are nominated by April 30 and then decide who to back.
It was not immediately clear whether the ruling party — which has a majority of seats in parliament — would back the head of the protest movement, Nikol Pashinyan, or another candidate.
Sharmazanov said earlier he personally doubted Pashinyan was a suitable candidate for the top job.
The ruling party said earlier it would announce its position on a May 1 vote to elect the country’s next prime minister on Monday.
The Prosperous Armenia Party, which holds 31 seats in the 105-member chamber, was expected on Saturday to issue a statement on whether it would back Pashinyan.
Political analysts say the party, led by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, has expressed support for Pashinyan but some of its members say they will only back the party’s leader as a candidate.
Analyst Stepan Safaryan said the ruling party’s announcement did not appear to improve Pashinyan’s chances of getting elected.
“This does not mean that the Republicans have thrown up the cards,” he said. “If Tsarukyan nominates his candidacy I don’t rule out that oligarchs among the Republicans will vote for him.”
Observers fear the turmoil could destabilise the Moscow-allied nation which has for decades been locked in a territorial dispute with Azerbaijan.
Sarkisian resigned as the country’s new prime minister after serving as president for a decade.
Pashinyan has issued an ultimatum to the authorities, saying that he should be elected the next prime minister — who holds the country’s top job under a parliamentary system of government. He however does not have enough votes to get elected.
Moscow has urged compromise and Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken by phone with the interim head of government, stressing the importance of the upcoming election.
On Friday, acting head of government Karen Karapetyan refused to hold talks with the protest leader. — AFP