Armenia’s Changing Political Winds Threaten a Rare Moment of Stability

Armenia’s Changing Political Winds Threaten a Rare Moment of Stability
Opposition demonstrators block the entrance of an underground carriage during a protest against former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s potential move to the prime minister’s seat, Yerevan, April 16, 2018 (PAN Photo via AP).

Last month, Armenia’s National Assembly elected onetime Prime Minister Armen Sarkissian as the country’s next president, replacing the long-tenured Serzh Sargsyan as head of state. It was the first presidential election since a 2015 constitutional referendum that was designed to shift power in Armenia from the presidency to parliament and, mainly, the prime minister. For the first time, Armenia’s president was selected by the National Assembly, rather than by popular vote.

While presidential votes have typically been contentious affairs in Armenia, Sarkissian’s election was initially met with comparative shrugs, and not just because the real power will now shift to the prime minister’s office, which Sargsyan is widely expected to slide into. Despite the political changes, the elections initially coincided with a rare period of relative stability in Armenia. Yet the country’s inherently volatile politics and strategic position make any reprieve fragile at best, as evidenced by the growing protests against Sargsyan’s nomination as prime minister in the capital, Yerevan.*

Compared to the controversial presidential election that vaulted Sargsyan to the presidency 10 years ago, the 2018 edition was a pointedly subdued affair. Unlike 2008, Sarkissian’s election avoided the tumult typically associated with direct elections in Armenia, which tend to be marred by allegations of administrative abuses and vote-rigging, and seemed to benefit from broad if variously ambivalent public acceptance of the outcome, despite some opposition activity. Some of this is probably attributable to the indirect nature of the election and the greatly diminished presidency. It also helps that Sarkissian himself, a former prime minister and previous ambassador to the United Kingdom, has a reputation for geniality and competence.

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