Ahead of PM vote Armenia's HHK concedes monopolising power was a mistake

Ben Aris
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) conceded that the “monopolisation of power was a mistake” as street protests were halted on April 30 to allow for negotiations ahead of the May 1 vote to choose an interim prime minister.
MP and de facto leader of the opposition Nikol Pashinian has been touring the country in the last few days, holding rallies in regional cities to keep the pressure up on the HHK that controls parliament. The protesters’ ‘Armenian Velvet Revolution’ movement now seems very close to taking power having forced Serzh Sargsyan to resign from the post of prime minister on April 23. He had been in power for over a decade, having served twice as president before moving to the office of prime minister which had been beefed up with crucial powers under a process to turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic.
In the next landmark event of the country’s political crisis, all the political parties have to submit their candidates for the job of interim prime minister today by 6 pm local time ahead of a vote scheduled for tomorrow (May 1).
Pashinian said that if he is elected prime minister, early elections would be held 15 days later. 
"We have 15 days after the election of PM to form the government. There will be a government formed around agreements [with the other political parties]," he said during talks with the HHK at a press briefing on April 30.
‘Form atmosphere of solidarity’
"Election of PM & formation of government necessary to ease political crisis. Objective is to create atmosphere of solidarity, where it will be possible to examine all issues; future government will be formed depending on how the vote goes tomorrow," Pashinian added in comments cited on social media from his meetings with other parties.
During the meeting, the HHK representatives called Pashinian out on his previous statements opposing Armenia's membership of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) when Armenia first joined the trade club. Pashinian stood by his remarks but said it is one thing to argue against a deal as a member of parliament and another thing to approach the matter as prime minister. Pashinian has been very careful not to alienate Russia. He has made it clear that he believes a good relationship with Russia will be a key part of achieving a successful transition for the country from here on in. 
"I opposed Armenia's participation in the EEU, but as politicians and statesmen we have to reconcile ourselves with reality. We have to take into account the country's national interests," Pashinian added.
The key unknown in the May 1 vote is whether the HHK will vote for Pashinian or not. Pashinian met with the head of the HHK faction, Vahram Baghdasaryan, on April 29 and told journalists that the ruling party “does not seem predisposed to obstruct the election of the people's candidate,” according to reports on social media. If the HHK sticks to its promise then the decision heads off a possible constitutional crisis that could easily lead to violence.
Currently Pashinian is the only candidate for the job of prime minister in the May 1 emergency session vote, but the opposition only has 47 votes under it sway whereas they need 53 to get Pashinian appointed. That means some 13 HHK deputies have to cross the aisle. If the vote fails then Acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan from the HHK will remain in power and a second vote for prime minister will have to be organised. Pashinian has vowed that if this scenario plays out he will ask the protesters to blockade parliament. If that point is reached, there is a risk that the protests may turn violent.
Pashinian earlier said that "a candidate from the people" must take the prime minister’s seat and explicitly said HHK must not put forward a candidate.  
HHK seem to be acquiescing to the opposition’s demands. The monopolisation of power and the underestimation of the opposition’s growing role were the main mistakes committed by Armenia’s ruling HHK, acting Justice Minister David Arutyunyan told a news briefing on April 28.
"I believe that our underestimation, the Republican Party’s underestimation of the risks of the monopolisation of power by one party can be fraught, which became the main problem," Arutyunyan said, reported Tass. "It was our main mistake, which we recognise. A strong opposition in the country spells strong government."
"We should not replace one monopoly with another one. The process must be politically inclusive to the maximum extent. We understand that this is the sole way to move forward," Arutyunyan added.

#RejectHHK the new hashtag
The HHK has said that it is open to fresh elections, but it has hinted strongly that the party wants to continue to play a role in Armenian politics, something that the protesters are against. The protest movement is now tweeting with a new hashtag: #RejectSerzh has been replaced with #RejectHHK in recent days.
Fears of a clash over this matter have been reinforced by the Speaker(*) of Armenia’s National Assembly Arpine Ovannisyan, who said the authorities do not accept the attempts to entirely exclude the Republicans from the political process.
"Each party must enjoy equitable opportunities in the negotiations. We saw an ultimatum from one side. The government explained why they would not discuss any themes only on one side," she said, in comments reported by Tass.
The Armenian constitution is clear on the procedure to follow if a sitting prime minister quits: there should be a simple majority vote to elect a successor to be held within seven days after the PM resigns to. The deadline to nominate candidates expires today (April 30) at 18:00 local time.
Article 149 of the Armenian Constitution, on the election and appointment of the prime minister, envisages that “within a seven-day period of accepting the Government’s resignation in the case of the Prime Minister submitting a resignation or the office of the Prime Minister becoming vacant, the caucuses of the National Assembly shall have the right to nominate candidates for the Prime Minister,” the Hetq.am news site said in an explainer on the constitutional procedures.
If a new prime minister is not chosen via the first vote, a second vote must be held within another seven days. If that vote fails then parliament is dissolved and fresh elections are held. In this case Acting Prime Minister Karapetyan will presumably continue to hold office and be responsible for organising the new elections – something the opposition is bound to reject given the state’s control over “administrative resources.”
Pashinian’s own party Yelq (Way Out Alliance) has only nine seats in parliament while the other leading opposition party Prosperous Armenia (also known by the name of its founder and sponsor, businessman Gagik Tsarukyan) has 31. Another seven seats belong to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which on April 26 said it was withdrawing from its coalition with HHK.
If Pashinian is elected PM he has 20 days to present a new government programme that must then be approved by the deputies with a simple majority vote. If the government rejects the programme, then parliament is again dissolved and fresh elections are held.

"New Business Europe" (www.intellinews.com), April 30, 2018

(*) Deputy Speaker ("Armeniaca") 

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