The latest refusal by Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian to rule out the possibility of retaining a top government post after his term runs out in 2018 has prompted critics to say he intends to remain in power.
In a documentary on Armenia aired by Al-Jazeera last week, Sarkisian said it is too early to speak about his possible nomination to become prime minister, which, under the reformed constitution, will be the No. 1 political post in Armenia after 2018.
He said whether he gets the post depends on the outcome of the 2017 parliamentary elections and the performance of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) that he heads.
“This is like speaking about cooking a fish while it is not caught yet. Next year, we are going to have parliamentary elections and in order for me to consider such an option, our party should at least make a strong showing in the elections,” Sarkisian said in the documentary, titled Armenia: Divided Within?
The Al-Jazeera piece focuses on the political situation in the South Caucasus in the wake of clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh in April and a two-week standoff between Armenian security forces and pro-opposition gunmen who occupied a Yerevan police station in July.
Sarkisian vowed he would not seek another top government post when he laid out amendments to the constitution in 2014. He said at the time he believed one person should not be the head of state more than twice in a lifetime.
His second and final term as president is due to end in 2018.
More recently, Sarkisian has shifted his stance, saying his fate would be determined by the outcome of the 2017 elections. Moreover, several senior ruling party members have spoken in favor of Sarkisian staying in power.
Levon Zurabian, a parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), said Sarkisian's latest statements send the message that he does not intend to leave power any time soon.
“By this he makes it clear that [current Prime Minister] Karen Karapetian is only a temporary figure whose goal is to mitigate social unrest before the next elections and ensure the HHK’s victory in the elections, after which Serzh Sarkisian will consider occupying the post of prime minister in 2018,” Zurabian told Azatutyun TV.
In 2015, the HAK campaigned against the constitutional changes, describing a "no" vote as a vote against Sarkisian’s continued stay in power.
“Now [Sarkisian] is offering us another present that will enable us to explain in a clear language to the people that an HHK victory in the April 2 elections will only mean the continuation of the Sarkisian regime,” said Zurabian.
Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on October 28, Zaruhi Postanjian, the leader of another parliamentary opposition faction, Heritage, also said that the constitutional reforms were clearly aimed at paving the way for Sarkisian to remain in power after the end of his presidency.
“The question is whether he will manage to do that or not. And the failure of his plans, of course, depends on the Armenian public, on how it will demonstrate itself during the next few months, which will be important for all of us. And it is during this period that it will be decided whether he can implement his scenario or not,” she said.