With hundreds of thousands of people gathered at Republic Square beginning early morning hours on Tuesday, Armenia’s National Assembly convened an extraordinary session at noon to elect a new prime minister, for which opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan was the only candidate who after a dramatic almost 10-hour session did not receive the majority of votes to occupy that position.
In the end, with businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance’s 29 votes, the Yelk factions nine votes and six votes from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Pashinyan received only 45 of the 53 votes needed to secure the prime ministership. The Republican Party of Armenia announced that its lawmakers would not support his candidacy. Only one Republican member, Feliks Tsolakyan, broke ranks with his party and voted for him.
Two members of the Tsarukian alliance did not attend the parliament session, with one Republican Party of Armenia member, Grigor Avalyan, announcing his resignation from parliament ahead of Tuesday’s session.
The National Assembly has seven days to convene another vote, which by all estimation will take place on Tuesday. If on that day the legislature fails to elect a prime minister, the parliament would have to organize snap parliamentary elections, under the Republican Party of Armenia’s leadership.
During a marathon parliament session broadcast live not only to the thousands gathered at Republic Square but to a worldwide audience, the Republican Party of Armenia staged what can be equated to a filibuster with its parliamentary faction members took to the dais to argue against electing Pashinyan as prime minister, citing a myriad reasons among them the threat of war looming over Artsakh and, once again, focusing on Russian-led initiatives such as the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, to which Pashinyan had voiced his opposition as candidate and parliament member. Late on Monday night Pashinyan, in a Facebook Live post, warned that the Republican Party of Armenia had emerged from secret talks led by ousted prime minister Serzh Sarkisian and was planning to sabotage the parliamentary voter, despite the fact the party had pledged to not introduce a candidate and would not interfere in due parliamentary processes.
"There is information that (former presidents) Serzh Sarkisian and Robert Kocharyan -- the famous tandem -- are planning to take back power," Pashinyan told lawmakers in parliament.
"I want to warn them -- gentlemen, the mistaken interpretation of people's leniency as a weakness can lead to a genuine political tsunami."
"I call on everyone to take to the streets because once again they want to steal the people's victory," he added.
The discussion often turned angry as sides accused one another of not having the best interests of the country in their approaches.
Members of Pashinyan’s Yelk Alliance took turns to underscore that the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets since April 13 were fed up with the Republican Party of Armenia’s corrupt rule that has resulted in poverty, a disregard for social justice and citizens’r rights and have forced thousands to leave Armenia, because the people were not able to determine their own fate under that rule.
"The Republicans won't be able to thwart the people's victory," 59-year-old financier Armen Nikagosyan told AFP at the rally.
David Babayan, a 25-year-old software specialist, warned that the ruling party's desire to cling to power would backfire.
"They will sign their own political death sentence," he told AFP.
In a dramatic twist during the parliament session, Armenian Revolutionary Federation bloc leader Aghvan Vardanyan broke ranks with his party and announced that he would vote against Pashinyan’s candidacy drawing the rebuke of his colleague, ARF Bureau member and fellow lawmaker Armen Rustamyan, who publicly denounced Vardanyan saying that the latter’s posturing came as a surprise and pledging organizational ramifications. In the end, Vardanyan did not vote.
Moments later the ARF Supreme Council of Armenia issued an announcement calling on Vardanyan to step down from his parliamentary post.
"The ARF Supreme Council of Armenia announces that ARF parliamentary faction member Aghvan Vardanyan’s decision was a personal one, which is not in line with ARF’s official stance," read a part of the announcement released by the Supreme Council. "There has been a gross violation of [party] discipline, which will be investigated. Accordingly, the ARF Supreme Council of Armenia calls for Aghvan Vardanyan to step down from his parliamentary post," the announcement concluded.
Vardanyan is a former member of the ARF Supreme Council of Armenia. He is a former member of the ARF Bureau and the former editor of Armenia’s Yerkir Daily and the ARF’s Droshak organ. He was first elected to Armenia’s Parliament in 1999, and has served as the head of the ARF Parliamentary faction. In 2003, he was appointed and served as the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs of the Republic of Armenia.
Pashinyan left the parliament building not defeated but with a great resolve to continue the campaign for change he started almost three weeks ago. He emerged at Republic Square to the cheers and greetings of the sea of supporters gathered there since the early hours of Tuesday.
He thanked those who voted for him and told his supporters to continue what they have started until next Tuesday when the National Assembly will once again convene to vote for a prime minister.
“Our counter-move against the action of the Republican faction will be very rapid. Tomorrow we will declare a general strike. We will block all the streets, communications, subways, train stations and the airports beginning at 8:15 in the morning,” Pashinyan, who was the only candidate for the premiership, told supporters after the parliamentary vote. “Our struggle cannot end in a failure.” He also called on students to boycott classes and continue their participation in the movement.
“They [the Republican Party of Armenia] wanted the people and the candidate of the people would panic, take provocative actions and organize attacks. But we are not engaged in acts of robbing ghosts. They may only be referring to the “political funeral” of the RPA,” Pashinyan told supporters on Tuesday.
"Asbarez," May 1, 2018
"The Guardian," May 1, 2018