Protests Mar Armenian PM Election
Armenia faces a deepening political crisis as demonstrators and opposition leaders take to the streets to protest the election of former President Serzh Sarksyan as Prime Minister of Armenia.
Since Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union in late 1991, the majority of elections for the unicameral National Assembly and presidency in post-communist Armenia have been consistently marked by alleged widespread electoral fraud. The presidential elections of 1996, 2003, 2008, and 2013 (four out of seven since 1991) saw open clashes between protesters and government forces while almost every single parliamentary election since 1991 (six elections, the most recent two of which were in 2012 and 2017) has been dogged by reports of voting irregularities and unconstitutional electoral practices.
In 2008, then-Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan was elected President in an election claimed by the opposition to be “rigged.” Sarksyan’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), a self-proclaimed “national conservative” party often characterized as a “typical post-Soviet ‘party of power,’” has dominated Armenian politics since then, with the 2012 parliamentary election delivering the HHK a larger majority in the National Assembly and Sarksyan cruising to re-election in 2013.
In 2015, then-President Sarksyan spearheaded the passage of several constitutional amendments, chief of which would transform the semi-presidential republic into a full parliamentary republic by removing direct elections for President, reducing the Presidency to a ceremonial role, and vesting the Prime Minister with extended executive powers. The President — limited by the old constitution to a maximum of two five-year terms — would be limited to one seven-year term while the Prime Minister would continue to have no term limits.
The package easily passed the HHK-dominated National Assembly on Oct. 2015 and was ultimately approved by a national referendum in Dec. 2015 despite international concerns regarding the validity of the referendum. Under the language of the approved amendments, the changes to the constitutional roles of the President and Prime Minister would only take place after the end of Sarksyan’s second and final presidential term in 2018.
In the run-up to the 2017 parliamentary elections — the first since the adoption of the amendments — initial reports indicated a close race between the incumbent HHK and Prosperous Armenia (BHK), the leading opposition party. However, the HHK secured another comfortable majority in the National Assembly, although opposition parties and international observers noted irregularities and allegations of vote-buying. The new National Assembly elected Armen Sarksyan (a former ambassador to the United Kingdom of no relation to Serzh Sarksyan) President on Mar. 2, 2018. The new President was sworn in on Apr. 9 while the Assembly set Apr. 17 as the date for choosing a new Prime Minister.
Anti-government protesters took to the streets beginning on Apr. 13 calling for “an Armenia without Serzh Sarksyan,” with demonstrations intensifying on Apr. 16 after the ruling HHK and its junior coalition partner unanimously nominated Serzh Sarksyan to be the country’s next Prime Minister. The National Assembly duly elected Serzh Sarksyan Prime Minister the following day.
At least 40,000 anti-government protesters rallied in Yerevan on Apr. 17, decrying what they described as Serzh Sarksyan’s attempt to extend his rule over the former Soviet republic. Protests have continued since then, with opposition leaders rejecting the new Prime Minister’s calls for talks to end the demonstrations on Apr 21.