Monday, April 23, saw the beginning of a new era in Armenia’s political life. Admitting that “he was wrong”, Serzh Sargsyan who served president of the country for ten years and has been recently elected prime minister, stepped down. “(Protest leader) Nikol Pahinyan was right. I was mistaken. There are several solutions to this situation, but I will not apply to any of them. It’s not for me. I’m leaving the post of the country’s leader, the Prime Minister,” the long-standing leader said in his unexpected statement.
It all started when in early April Serzh Sargsyan broke his promise and announced he would run for prime minister, Armenia’s most powerful figure due to a controversial referendum held in 2015. Then, in 2015, around two-thirds (66,2%) of Armenians backed the constitutional changes to curb presidential powers and boost the role of prime minister. The referendum caused protests amid opposition claiming lots of cases of electoral fraud took place. Peculiarly enough, the constitutional changes were to come into force in 2018, just when Sargsyan’s presidential term was ending, so it was obvious that he was “grabbing to power”.
Unfortunately for Sargsyan, his plan backfired. When he was declared to become Prime Minister, massive protests began around Armenia. Their goal is clear – to achieve Prime Minister’s resignation, and they’ve succeeded. Though protesters have a leader, Nikol Pashinyan, experts say they are diversified and are not led by any particular political power. People just seem to be tired of decades-lasting social and economic issues brought by the rule of Serzh Sargsyan and his Republican Party.
The protest leader Nikol Pashinyan is a former editor of the Armenian Times newspaper, who has been an opposition MP for a long time. On April 22, five days after Sargsyan was elected, he secured a meeting with the new prime minister at Yerevan’s Marriott Hotel. This face-to-face before live TV cameras didn’t last long. Just minutes after it began, the prime minister rose and walked out of the room. “It’s a blackmail,” he said to the journalists. After the meeting, Pashinyan was detained by security forces to be released on Monday some hours before the resignation.
The example of Armenia may become a great and rare demonstration of true democracy, when it is the nation which controls the government. For now, there has been no evidence of any external power standing behind the protests. Even Russia (whose interests have been hit as Sargsyan is said to have close ties with Moscow) that often points the finger at the West’s intervention in the affairs of other states merely comments on the situation. Thus, according to Russian Parliamentary Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, Sargsyan’s resignation is an internal affair for Armenia, and that’s it.
“What’s next?” one may ask.
It’s unclear for now. Protesters are demanding early elections but The Heinrich Böll Foundation’s head Nino Lejava predicts long negotiations with the Republican Party. Nevertheless, the resignation of one of long-standing leaders of the former Soviet Union countries is a big step forward for Armenians, and this is what’s called democracy – the rule of people.
Photo credit: AFP