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Armenia's Ruling Party 'Open' To Opposition Candidates For PM

Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of Armenia's ruling Republican Party
Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of Armenia's ruling Republican Party

A senior member of Armenia's ruling party has challenged other political groups to name their own candidates to be prime minister, which will be the country's top post after constitutional reform is completed next month.

Vahram Baghdasarian, who heads the parliamentary faction of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), said on March 6 that his party is ready to discuss opposition candidates, although no candidates have been put forward by other parties.

Baghdasarian said he personally believed that the HHK’s current leader, outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian, is the politician who more than anyone else deserves to become the country’s next prime minster.

Because Armenia is a country locked in a long conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan over its breakaway region Nagorno-Karabakh, Baghdasarian said Sarkisian is the person most "capable of carrying this heavy burden."

Nagorno-Karabakh, populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, declared independence from Azerbaijan amid a 1988-94 war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Several members of the HHK have already spoken in favor of Sarkisian’s candidacy for prime minister. The outgoing president himself has not ruled out such a possibility despite his 2014 promise not to "aspire" to the top post if Armenia becomes a parliamentary republic under the constitutional changes he initiated.

Together with its junior coalition partner, Dashnaktsutyun, the HHK enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament to install its candidate as Armenia's next premier.

Opposition Warning

Talk of Sarkisian taking the prime minister post has prompted at least one Armenian opposition group to warn him against attempting to stay in power.

"If Serzh Sarkisian decides after all to nominate his prime-ministerial candidacy contrary to his promise, that could drastically escalate the political situation in Armenia," Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken government critic who heads the opposition Yelk faction in parliament, said on February 9.

The Yelk alliance has considered staging street protests next month against Sarkisian becoming prime minister.

But Baghdasarian said he doubted such street protests would be popular. He suggested that the opposition alliance use the parliamentary platform instead.

"Taking politics into the street has never produced a result, and has not been efficient either in terms of the country's development or in terms of the development of a given political group," Baghdasarian said.

Under Armenia's new Constitution, the government will resign on April 9, the day when Sarkisian's presidential powers will expire. The political parties represented in parliament will then have a week to nominate candidates for prime minister.