April 28, 2018 / 2:48 PM / 3 months ago

Armenian ruling party quits PM race as protest leader bids for power

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenia’s ruling party will not put up a candidate for prime minister, it said on Saturday, in a bid to ease tensions after more than two weeks of street protests against the ruling elite.

Supporters of Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan attend a rally in the town of Ijevan, Armenia April 28, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Demonstrations against the party and official corruption forced Serzh Sarksyanm, a former president, to resign as prime minister last Monday and parliament is due to pick a new one on May 1.

While its majority in parliament means it should be able to choose who that is, the Republican Party has decided not to put forward its own candidate.

“By not putting forward a candidate, we will avoid confrontation and an increase in security risks,” party spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov told reporters.

“We are not putting anyone forward in the state’s interest.”

Protest leader Nikol Pashinyan, a member of parliament who describes himself as “the people’s choice”, has said parliament should elect him prime minister next week. He then wants snap parliamentary polls under a new election law.

Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan attends a rally in the town of Ijevan, Armenia April 28, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

On Saturday he called on supporters to continue protests and to organise big, non-violent demonstrations in the capital Yerevan on May 1.

“All protest actions, actions of civil disobedience, should be renewed with new force. The victory of the people must be recognised,” Pashinyan, 42, told a rally in the town of Ijevan.

With the Republican Party’s 58 seats in the 105-seat parliament, Pashinyan is unlikely to be elected without their support.

However, the second biggest party in parliament, Prosperous Armenia, hinted it might support him.

“My team and I will vote for a people’s candidate, whether it’s Nikol Pashinyan or anyone else nominated by the people,” party leader Gagik Tsarukyan told Kentron TV.

A junior coalition member, the Dashnaktsutyun Party, said this week it was quitting the government and favoured an early election, but it was unclear whether it would vote for Pashinyan who has a history of political activism and opposition.

Although the demonstrations have been peaceful, the upheaval has threatened to destabilise Armenia, an ally of Russia, in a volatile region riven by Armenia’s decades-long, low-level conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan.

Slideshow (2 Images)

The next parliamentary elections are not due until 2022. But if parliament fails twice to elect a new prime minister with majority support, early elections must be held.

Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov in Moscow; Writing by Polina Devitt/Andrew Osborn/Margarita Antidze; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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