YEREVAN -- Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinian has dismissed any compromise with the ruling Republican Party (HHK) and claimed he is the only legitimate candidate for the prime minister's post, while the country's president refused to take sides but told RFE/RL that Armenia was on the path to becoming a "real democratic state."
Earlier on April 26, Armenia's parliament speaker said lawmakers would vote on May 1 for the country's next prime minister following the resignation of Serzh Sarkisian this week after 11 days of protests.
Speaker Ara Babloian announced the special parliamentary session as the HHK came under growing pressure to hand over power to Pashinian while the Caucasus state struggles through its biggest political crisis in years.
In an interview with RFE/RL, President Armen Sarkisian, who is not related to the former prime minister, did not offer support to any candidate, but said recent actions show the country is on the road to becoming a "new Armenia" with a "huge spectrum of opinions."
"Armenia today is not like the country we had even a couple of weeks ago," he also said.
Pashinian 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.
Pashinian said he had invited acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian to a meeting at noon on April 27 at Yerevan’s Marriott Hotel. He insisted that the talks take place in front of the media.
Despite Sarkisian’s resignation on April 23 and the departure of the junior partner from the HHK’s governing coalition two days later, the HHK still controls a majority with 58 lawmakers in the 105-seat parliament.
It remains uncertain whether Pashinian would be able to garner the 53 votes needed to win the prime minister’s post. He would need the support of all opposition deputies and at least six HHK lawmakers.
Pashinian spent April 26 meeting with other parliamentary factions in a bid to secure support for his candidacy, including a session with Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of parliament’s second-largest faction -- the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).
The BHK on April 25 told its members to take to the streets and join Pashinian’s protest movement. But it has yet to officially confirm whether its deputies will vote to elect Pashinian.
Tsarukian said his faction would formally announce its position after negotiations are completed.
"One thing is absolutely clear. In our decisions we will be guided by the voice of the people, by the people's will," he said.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation, also known as Dashnaktsutyun, said after leaving the governing coalition that the parliament should elect a prime minister who "enjoys the people’s confidence."
Several Dashnaktsutyun lawmakers publicly expressed support for Pashinian and the street protests he has been leading for the past two weeks.
Three ministers from Dashnaktsutyun -- the acting ministers of education and science, environmental protection, and territorial governance -- resigned on April 26 along with two regional governors from Dashnaktsutyun.
Meanwhile, two key officials in the HHK -- acting Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and acting Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgian -- met with officials in Moscow to discuss the implications of the political crisis in Yerevan.
Russia 'Won't Intervene'
Russia's Foreign Ministry said Nalbandian met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
And a Kremlin statement late on April 26 said Putin told Karapetian in a phone call that the political standoff in Armenia should be solved only through legal means.
Russia, Armenia’s main ally, has said it would not intervene in the standoff.
The HHK has indicated it plans to replace Serzh Sarkisian as party chairman, but did not say who the new leader would be. It said the situation would be discussed during a meeting of party leaders on April 27.
The HHK also said it was ready to discuss "any issue" with Pashinian "without preconditions."
Supporters of Pashinian, who leads the opposition Civil Contract party, continued their street protests on April 26.
'The People's Victory'
In a late rally on Republic Square, Pashinian insisted on "unconditional recognition" by the HHK and all other political parties and alliances in parliament of "the people’s victory."
He vowed that no secret talks would take place and that "no deal can be struck behind the people’s back."
“We expect that all parliamentary factions will recognize the people's victory unconditionally, without conditions, without preconditions,” he told the crowd, saying there was "no other option."
In a rally on April 25, Pashinian, apparently referring to himself, said, "The Armenian people have a candidate for prime minister, and the National Assembly factions must reckon with this political reality and nominate that candidate by consensus."
In his interview with RFE/RL, Armen Sarkisian said "the outcome of this debate…will be resolved at the parliament with the election of the new prime minster, later the new government. And maybe parliament will also vote to have new elections in the near future."
"What is happening in Armenia…after several years of demonstrations, is [that] now we are going toward a democratic process," Sarkisian also said, speaking in fluent English for the second half of the 30-minute interview.
The president said that "the outcome of this debate…will be resolved at the parliament with the election of the new prime minster, later the new government. And maybe parliament will also vote to have new elections in the near future."
"If we manage this properly, all the problems which were raised during the demonstrations will be resolved according to the constitution and inside the parliament," he added. "Then we all can be proud that we are on the real path to making Armenia a real democratic state."
Pashinian has insisted that the HHK was responsible for vote-rigging in previous elections and should not be allowed to remain in power while early parliamentary elections are being organized.
"Don't get me wrong," he said. "This is not about my election as prime minister, but about the elimination of the corrupt system."
He called for Armenia's current election laws to be reformed, saying they do not promote free, fair, or transparent elections.
Armen Sarkisian, in his interview with RFE/RL, speculated that the parliament could ''vote to change the election code" or other laws but was not more specific.
The catalyst for the recent protests was 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.