YEREVAN -- Armenian protest leader Nikol Pashinian has been officially nominated as a candidate for the post of prime minister in the upcoming vote on May 8, after he secured the backing of 41 lawmakers in the 105-seat parliament, a member of the Pashinian-led Yelk faction told RFE/RL on May 3.
Ararat Mirzoian's statement came amid a pause called by Pashinian on May 2 in the three-week-long demonstrations, after the ruling Republican Party (HHK) indicated that it would support him for prime minister in a May 8 parliamentary vote.
Separately, in a video posted on Facebook, Pashinian said on May 3 that he had a meeting with the head of the parliamentary faction of the HHK, Vahram Baghdasarian, who assured him that the HHK will support him as the “people’s candidate,” reiterating his party's support for any candidate who secured the backing of one-third of lawmakers.
Pashinian has been antigovernment protests that forced Republican leader and former President Serzh Sarkisian to step down as prime minister just days after he was elected to the position by the parliament.
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Sarkisian had been president for a decade but 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 heed Pashinian's call and to take to the streets, outraged that the new system would have allowed Sarkisian to remain Armenia's leader indefinitely.
Pashinian-led protests which expanded beyond the capital, Yerevan, forced the parliament to hold a first vote on May 1 on a new prime minister to replace Sarkisian, but the HHK-controlled legislature voted 55-45 against Pashinian, and protests continued the following day.
After calling on May 2 for a halt in protests, Pashinian on May 3 asked all his supporters to come to Yerevan's Republic Square at 11 a.m. on May 8 -- the day the parliament votes again on a prime minister. Until then, he told supporters to stay in touch with him through Facebook, should the political situation change.
PHOTO GALLERY: General Strike Paralyzes Armenian Capital (click to view)
Under Armenia’s constitution, if a prime minister is not elected in the second vote on May 8, parliament will be dissolved and early general elections would be held with the HHK-led acting government in charge of the electoral process.
Yelk's Mirzoian told RFE/RL on May 3 that Pashinian has also received the backing of representatives of the Tsarukyan Alliance, which has 31 seats, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which has seven seats.
Pashinian’s Yelk faction has nine seats.
President Armen Sarkisian, who is not related to Serzh Sarkisian, called for talks to be held to resolve the crisis before the second vote.
"I deeply regret that the political crisis continues despite the fact that everyone is talking about how dangerous it is for the future of the country," Armen Sarkisian said in a statement.
His calls were echoed by acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian.
The May 3 pause in the wave of protests came after a dramatic previous day during which crowds Pashinian had called into action blocked nearly every major road in the country, paralyzing traffic and business activity on May 2.
Main highways blocked included the one connecting Yerevan with the country's main airport and those leading to the Georgian and Iranian borders.
However, passage was allowed for all emergency vehicles and the two strategic highways connecting Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh were kept open.
Nagorno-Karabakh, the ethnic Armenian-populated breakaway region of Azerbaijan, was the cause of a deadly war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that started in 1988 and ended in a 1994 cease-fire.
A four-day flare in the fighting in 2016 resulted in nearly 100 being killed.