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Armenian Protest Leader Formally Appointed Prime Minister

Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinian waves to supporters after being elected as prime minister in Yerevan's Republic Square on May 8, 2018.
Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinian waves to supporters after being elected as prime minister in Yerevan's Republic Square on May 8, 2018.

YEREVAN -- Armenia’s Prime Minister-elect Nikol Pashinian has met with President Armen Sarkisian, who formally signed into power Pashinian's appointment.

The meeting on May 8 came hours after parliament elected Pashinian as the country's prime minister in a 59 to 42 vote.

Sarkisian asked the new prime minister "to form a government as soon as possible and engage in the resolution of the problems which our state, government, the entire nation, and the country...are facing," the president’s press office said.

Ahead of the vote, the parliamentary faction leader of the ruling Republican Party (HHK), Vahram Baghdasarian, announced that the HHK would provide Pashinian with 11 votes -- enough to give him, together with opposition lawmakers, the minimal amount of support needed to be elected.

While the events unfolded in parliament, Yerevan's central Republic Square was thronged with thousands of people who responded to Pashinian's call for them to gather there and ensure the HHK would follow through on its promise to elect him.

Pashinian Calls For Armenian Officials To Serve 'Honestly'
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Celebrating after the vote, in what Pashinian described as "an epochal victory," many of Pashinian's supporters at Republic Square wore white clothing -- either T-shirts, hats, or dressed completely in white.

"From now on the people should demand that all officials -- the prime minister, the president, and all the others -- serve the people honestly and devotedly," Pashinian told the rally after his election.

"If not, the people should make their move as they did in April 2018. And so, long live freedom! Long live the Republic of Armenia! Long live all of us and our children -- who right now live in a free and happy Armenia."

The events culminated several weeks of mass protests across Armenia which brought down the previous HHK prime minister, Serzh Sarkisian, and were dubbed by Pashinian's supporters as a nonviolent "velvet revolution."

Pashinian has five days to propose the members of his cabinet and another 15 to submit his government program to parliament for approval.

He has said that he would form a government of "national accord."

However, HHK lawmaker Gevorg Kostanian noted after the May 8 vote that Armenia now had a "minority government" and that the HHK continued to wield a parliamentary majority.

That means Pashinian will have to work together with the HHK majority or face difficulties getting legislation passed, like the changes to the electoral law that he has proposed.

The HHK also remains in a position where it could block Pashinian's proposed cabinet and his government program.​

Celebrations in central Yerevan
Celebrations in central Yerevan

Baghdasarian stressed on May 8 that the 11 HHK votes for Pashinian's candidacy were not "defectors" and should not be treated by Pashinian as defectors.

Under Armenia's constitution, if the parliament does not approve Pashinian's government program within 20 days of taking office, the legislature would automatically be dissolved and early general elections would be called.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory message to Pashinian after the May 8 vote, according to the Kremlin press service.

Putin was quoted as telling Pashinian that he hoped his work as prime minister will "promote stronger, friendly, and allied relations between our countries and partnership within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and the Collective Security Treaty Organization."

Ahead of the vote, describing aspects of his government program, Pashinian told lawmakers on May 8 that Armenia would continue to be a member of the Russia-led EEU and continue its military cooperation with Russia, which has a military base in the Caucasus country.

"Allied relations with Russia should be based on friendship, equality, and mutual willingness to solve problems," Pashinian told the parliament.

The Moment Pashinian Was Voted Armenian PM
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"We see military cooperation with Russia as the main factor guaranteeing Armenia's security, " he said.

Pashinian also vowed to "actively develop" cooperation with the United States, the European Union, Iran, Georgia, China, and India.

On the issue of Armenia's long-standing dispute with Baku over Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Pashinian said he was ready to negotiate a peaceful settlement "on the basis of the equality of peoples and self-determination."

Pashinian is expected to visit Nagorno-Karabakh on May 9 to take part in events marking the 26th anniversary of the Armenian forces' capture of Shushi (known as Shusha in Azeri), a key town in the disputed region.

"We have to give the international recognition" of the breakaway region's independence "a fresh boost, and the [Armenian] community has a big role in this," Pashinian said.

Balloons and dancing as crowds on Republic Square await word of the vote.
Balloons and dancing as crowds on Republic Square await word of the vote.

But Pashinian said any talks on the dispute with Azerbaijan's leadership "cannot be effective or comprehensive without the participation" of ethnic Armenians who control the breakaway territory.

Pashinian led antigovernment protests in April that forced longtime President and HHK head Serzh Sarkisian to step down as prime minister just days after Sarkisian had been elected to the position by parliament.

Sarkisian had been president since 2008, and term limits forced him to step aside last month.

However, the HHK-dominated parliament quickly appointed him as prime minister, a switch made possible by constitutional changes that weakened the presidency while bolstering the prime minister's powers.

The move prompted thousands to take to the streets, accusing Sarkisian of clinging to power and voicing concern that the new system could have allowed Sarkisian to remain Armenia's leader indefinitely.

Pashinian told journalists on May 7 that he would not seek revenge against his political adversaries if elected.

He also told RFE/RL that he will not accept the presence of oligarchs in his government.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and AFP

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