YEREVAN – The former junior partner in the Armenian ruling party’s coalition has urged all parliamentary factions to unite around a “single candidate” for prime minister ahead of a scheduled May 1 vote to decide on a new leader.
The statement on April 27 by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) comes two days after it pulled out of the governing coalition with the Republican Party (HHK) amid growing street protests over the HHK’s long-held grip on power.
Several Dashnaktsutyun lawmakers publicly expressed support for opposition leader Nikol Pashinian and the street protests he has been leading for the past two weeks, and three ministers from the party resigned their cabinet posts.
Dashnaktsutyun on April 27 said its proposals were “reaffirming our approaches to the settlement of the situation created as a result of the Popular Movement, with the aim of finding a settlement within the framework of constitutionality and laws.”
It called on parliamentary factions, including the HHK, to form “a joint political agenda to agree on a single candidate who enjoys the confidence of the people, who, on the basis of conciliation, will present the staff and the program of activities of the government.”
It was not immediately clear if the party was supporting the candidacy of Pashinian, who has claimed he is the only appropriate candidate to become the Caucasus nation’s next prime minister.
WATCH: Live broadcast from Yerevan by RFE/RL's Armenian Service
Pashinian’s Yelk faction has only nine members in the 105-seat parliament; Dashnaktsutyun has seven; and the other nominal opposition faction, Tsarukian Alliance, has 31 seats.
To win, Pashinian would need at least six votes from the HHK, which holds a majority in parliament with 58 seats. However, HHK leaders say the party remains united, although they have not yet announced a candidate for prime minister.
Pashinian and his supporters on April 27 traveled for a rally to Gyumri, Armenia’s second-largest city and the host of a Russian military base with some 3,000 personnel.
At the rally, Pashinian vowed that Armenia would make "no geopolitical reversals" should he come to power.
The opposition leader, who stopped at several villages on the way to Gyumri, said he plans to rally in the city of Vanadzor on April 28.
Pashinian had proposed that he and acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian meet at a central Yerevan hotel on April 27 to discuss only one issue -- a peaceful transfer of power -- and insisted the talks be held in the presence of the media and broadcast live.
But a spokesman for Karapetian said, "The acting prime minister believes that negotiations where one side exclusively dictates the agenda, and the other cannot present its agenda, cannot be considered negotiations."
"Besides, Karen Karapetian still believes that holding talks in front of the media already suggests that the goal of the talks is not to achieve any results," spokesman Aram Araratian said in a Facebook post.
Karapetian's refusal to meet with Pashinian came after the acting prime minister spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on April 26. Russia is Armenia's closest ally and economic partner.
Karapetian later told an interview with Shant TV that the opposition was “monopolizing” the political process and said all sides should reach a solution to the crisis through dialogue.
“We should understand which political forces will lead the country to a better future,” he said.
Pashinian called for a large demonstration on May 1, the day of parliament’s scheduled vote on the premiership.
"The opposition will continue demonstrations," Pashinian told the media. "Hundreds of thousands of people will take to the streets on May 1, when the new prime minister will be elected."
Pashinian said that, as prime minister, he would form a provisional government, reform electoral laws, and oversee the next parliamentary elections that he says must be free, fair, and transparent, which he said is impossible with the HHK in power.
"We agree with early elections, but we should have a guarantee that this election will be really free, and really transparent, and really democratic, because otherwise, it won't mean anything. [On the contrary], that election will only deepen the political crisis. We need to solve the political crisis, not to deepen [it]," Pashinian said.
On April 26, Pashinian said he was the only appropriate candidate for prime minister.
WATCH: Pashinian leads a protest march through Yerevan
He told a rally of supporters gathered on Yerevan’s central Republic Square that “I either will be elected prime minister through the people, by their demand, and with their support, or no prime minister at all will be elected in the republic of Armenia.”
“There can be no compromise with the corrupt and antinational system,” he added.
The catalyst for the recent protests was former President Serzh Sarkisian's shift to the newly powerful post of prime minister after a decade as president -- a move critics charged was a blatant bid to cling to power when he reached the limit of two straight presidential terms.
Sarkisian resigned this week in the face of protests, with Karapetian taking his place as acting prime minister.
Pashinian on April 27 met with President Armen Sarkisian -- who is not related to Serzh Sarkisian -- and separately, with two Dashnaktsutyun members.
The Armenian administration said on its website that the president had spoken to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and reaffirmed the commitment of the Armenian authorities to seek a "peaceful settlement" that would protect human rights and be in line with the constitution.
Meanwhile Russia -- Armenia's main ally and trading partner -- has said it will not intervene in the standoff.
However, a Kremlin statement late on April 26 said that in his phone call with Karapetian, Putin had called for a quick solution to the political crisis that would reflect the outcome of last year’s parliamentary elections won by Sarkisian’s HHK.
“It was emphasized that the settlement of the crisis situation in Armenia must happen in the solely legal field, within the framework of the current constitution, and on the basis of the results of the legitimate parliamentary elections held in April 2017,” the Kremlin said in a readout of the phone call.
Putin "stressed the importance of the election by the parliament of the republic’s prime minister scheduled for May 1, 2018,” it added.