The Armenian Parliament has elected a New President: Who will be the New Prime Minister?
Author: Giorgi Turmanidze
On 2 March 2018, the Parliament of Armenia elected Armen Sargsyan as the Fourth President of the country. For the first time in Armenia’s history, the President was elected by the Parliament, not the citizens. After these elections, Armenia will move from the Presidential model of governance to Parliamentary one. In the new political system, the President of Armenia will not have influence on foreign or defense policy and will hold a symbolic role.
Why did the Country’s Model of Governance Change?
Through the election of the President by the Parliament, Armenia will move to the Parliamentary governance model. This decision was not just motivated by the wish to build a European democracy. According to the common view, the change in the governance model is connected with the political plans of the most powerful political figure in the Armenian history and the third President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan.
The 63-year-old Serzh Sargsyan, whose military-political career started back in the Soviet Period, during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, will probably remain in politics and continue governing the country in some other capacity. As it would appear, Sargsyan does not want to tarnish his image of being a democrat and hence has refused the third Presidential tenure. By such a decision, Sargsyan kept the democratic standard formally and determined his place in the new political system as a Prime Minister. Despite the fact that in 2014 Sargsyan made a promise that after transforming Armenia into a Parliamentary republic, he would not assume the highest political office, there is a well-founded suspicion that the third President of Armenia may become the country’s Prime Minister, therefore maintaining influence on domestic and external affairs of Armenia.
Sargsyan made three consistent steps, which should ultimately ensure that he becomes the Prime Minister of Armenia:
- First, according to the constitutional amendments passed on the basis of the 6 December 2015 referendum, the power of the President will be weakened after 9 April 2018 and the country will move to the Parliamentary governance model. Serzh Sargsyan’s second and last tenure as the President of Armenia expires on 9 April 2018 as well. The real power in the Parliamentary model will be held by the Prime Minister and in the case of Sargsyan becoming the Prime Minister the constitutional amendments will have ensured the legitimation of his power.
- Second, in the case of the Parliamentary model of governance the center of political gravity moves to the Parliament and hence who controls the Parliament becomes an issue of vital importance. As a result of April 2017 Parliamentary Elections, Serzh Sargsyan achieved a desirable political balance in the Parliament. According to the election results, 58 mandates from the overall number of 105, was received by the Republican Party of Armenia. The partner of the governing party and the member of the coalition government, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, also known as Dashnaktsutyun, holds seven mandates. Of the remaining two parties, one is Tsarukyan Alliance, led by a famous Armenian businessman and politician, Gagik Tsarukyan, holding 31 mandates. Tsarukyan Alliance is the ally of the ruling party on some important issues. The Way Out Alliance, holds just nine mandates, which is not enough to influence key issues in the Parliament.
- Third, after passing the amendments and ensuring control over the Parliament, the third defining step for Serzh Sargsyan was to select a loyal Presidential candidate. On 18 January Sargsyan hinted what the Fourth President of Armenia was supposed to be like. According to his assessment, the new President must have connections with the Armenian diaspora, must be fluent in foreign languages, is supposed to be unbiased and not a member of any political party. Already on the following day, on 19 January, Serzh Sargsyan named the Ambassador of Armenia to the United Kingdom, Armen Sargsyan, who met all the criteria set by the incumbent President, as a Presidential Candidate of the Republican Party of Armenia.
If we take into account that Armen Sargsyan conducted his work mostly abroad and did not participate in the domestic politics of the country, he will find it difficult to start his own political game due to the lack of political connections and support from powerful groups. In the case of Serzh Sargsyan becoming the Prime Minister, this will ensure that the President is loyal to him.
Electing the Fourth President
As a result of the vote held in the Armenian Parliament on 2 March 2018, Armen Sargsyan secured victory in the very first round, as apart from the coalition partners – the Republican Party and Dashnaktsutyun, he also received the support of Tsarukyan Alliance, becoming the Fourth President of Armenia by 90 votes, wit 10 voting against and one vote being annulled. Armen Sargsyan was the only Presidential candidate.
Armen Sargsyan became the Fourth President of Armenia; however, he is the first President who was elected by the Parliament, not by the citizens. His influence, unlike that enjoyed by his predecessors, will be significantly smaller. First President of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, ruled the country from 1991 to 1998, in the most difficult period. His attempts to make some concessions with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict ended with his resignation before the end of his tenure. Ter-Petrosyan was replaced by Robert Kocharyan, who governed Armenia from 1998 to 2008. In 2008, Kocharyan was replaced by Serzh Sargsyan, whose Presidential tenure expires on 9 April 2018.
Who is the New President?
The 64-year-old Armen Sargsyan (born in 1953) studied Theoretical Physics and Mathematics in Yerevan State University. From 1976 to 1984, he worked as a professor at the Physics Department at his home university. Even back in the Soviet Period, in 1984-1985 he conducted academic work at the University of Cambridge. From 1985 to 1992 he taught at his home university. His diplomatic career started immediately after Armenia became independent. From 1992 to 1995 he served as the Ambassador of Armenia to the United Kingdom. In 1993-1994, he represented Armenia in the Council of Europe whilst from 1995 he headed the Armenian Mission to the European Union.
On 4 November 1996, after contested Presidential Elections, he was appointed to the position of Prime Minister, in order to improve the government’s image. However, his tenure as Prime Minister lasted just four months, until 20 March 1997. According to the official version, he resigned due to health problems; however, the actual reason for his resignation was believed to be a confrontation with the powerful Minister of Defense, Vazgen Sargsyan.
From 1998 to 2000 Armen Sargsyan returned to the UK as the Ambassador of Armenia. After the 2008 Presidential Elections, due to which the government of Armenia was harshly criticized by the West, Armen Sargsyan worked on improving Serzh Sargsyan’s image in the Western countries. From 2013 until becoming the President, he served as the Ambassador of Armenia to the United Kingdom for a third time.
In the beginning of the 2000s, Armen Sargsyan temporarily recused himself from diplomacy and was occupied with business in the Post-Soviet countries. He was an advisor and a lobbyist to many well-known international companies (British Petroleum, Alcatel, Telefonica and Merril Lynch). In 2000, he founded Eurasia House International in London, which worked to foster dialogue and cooperation between political and business leaders.
Armen Sargsyan is a founder of several investment companies – including his work in the field of computer software engineering. His name is connected with the investment projects in Armenia, Russia and Central Asia. According to official declarations, his wealth is several million USD. In 2013, he hosted Prince Charles in Yerevan as a guest of Yerevan My Love foundation, which Sargsyan founded himself.
“Powers” of the new President
The Parliament elected the President for one seven-year tenure. The President can sign the laws adopted by the Parliament. He has no power to dismiss the Parliament or appoint early elections. The President is obligated to dismiss the Parliament at the recommendation of the Prime Minister or make changes to the Cabinet.
In foreign policy, the President can only sign international agreements or appoint/dismiss diplomatic representatives at the recommendation of the government. At the recommendation of the Prime Minister, the President can appoint or dismiss the head of the armed forces. In the case of war, the power is transferred to the Prime Minister. According to new legislative changes, the Prime Minister will also head the Security Council whilst the President will no longer be a member.
First Steps of the New President
The New President will assume his office on 9 April 2018, when Serzh Sargsyan’s second tenure expires. From 9 to 16 April, the majority faction in the Parliament must present its candidate for the position of Prime Minister, after which, on 17 April, the Parliament will elect the new head of government.
The current Prime Minster, Karen Karapetyan, has strong support from local businesses and he even expressed his interest in keeping his position. However, there were numerous open indications during the past two months that Serzh Sargsyan might occupy the position of Prime Minister whilst Karapetyan, who is knowledgeable about economics, will have to be content with the position of the First Vice Prime Minister. In the past weeks Serzh Sargsyan clearly stated that he wishes to be the Prime Minister in the new political system. The party leaders are also not shy about stating their “desire” to see Serzh Sargsyan become the Prime Minister of Armenia, and in the case of “his refusal”, to “compel” him to accept the offer.
If Serzh Sargsyan refuses the position of Prime Minister due to external or domestic policy issues, he can still keep the position of the Chairman of the Republican Party of Armenia, which will afford him influence and power over the Parliament. Despite what role Serzh Sargsyan will play after 9 April, the statements of Armenia’s governing elite clearly indicate that Serzh Sargsyan does not plan on leaving politics and retiring.
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