Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said Monday that Armenia may shift to a semi-presidential system of government, despite having called the system “irresponsible and disastrous” in 2020.
Pashinian proposed holding a referendum in the former Soviet republic in late 2021 to adopt a new constitution, adding snap elections were possible under certain conditions. According to him, the current constitution, which was adopted in 2015 and entered into force in 2018, has a large number of shortcomings that put the country at risk of being in crisis situations.
“In October, we need to start the process of adopting a new constitution or making changes to the constitution. A transition scenario to a semi-presidential system is also possible,” he said, speaking to thousands of his supporters in Republic Square in the capital Yerevan, adding a referendum should be held for that purpose. Under a semi-presidential system, the country is ruled by an elected president, a prime minister and a cabinet.
“Our biggest task should be the creation and formation of such constitutional structures that will guarantee stability and security in the Republic of Armenia, will exclude the formation of such crises,” said Pashinian, who has been in power since 2018. “Let’s go to the polls and see whose resignation the people are demanding,” he added, according to Anadolu Agency (AA).
Earlier, the prime minister had expressed that the semi-presidential system of government since the independence of Armenia has been a failure.
During a press conference in January 2020, Pashinian said that after being appointed prime minister, he was often advised to switch to a semi-presidential system of government. According to him, this system had one big drawback – all responsibility fell on the prime minister, but the levers were in the hands of the president.
Political tensions in Armenia heightened Monday, with supporters of the embattled prime minister and the opposition each holding massive rallies at separate sites in the capital.
“I am six months pregnant but I had to come out,” a 36-year-old protester told Agence-France Presse (AFP), directing her fury at her country’s prime minister. “I am against this regime. He should be in jail, he can’t remain in place.” Around her in Armenia’s capital Yerevan several thousand protesters, waving the national flag, echoed her contempt.
Referring to a statement issued by Chief of General Staff Onik Gasparyan and other senior commanders calling on him to resign, Pashinian said: “The chief of general staff violated the law with this statement, and he must resign. This is inevitable.”
Pashinian, who argued that former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan also provoked the army to turn against him, said the statement by the general staff was published as a result of the influence of former officials, particularly Sargsyan.
Sharing the hope that President Armen Sarkissian will sign a decree dismissing Gasparyan, Pashinian stressed that he is ready to go to early parliamentary elections.
The dispute over dismissing Gasparyan after he called for the premier’s resignation last week continued between Pashinian and Sarkissian. Though Sarkissian rejected Pashinian order to sack the chief of general staff, Pashinian sent the same decree to the presidency again.
Analyst Giragosian said the best way forward is for Pashinian to seek a new mandate at elections – but that the prime minister is wary of handing over to any caretaker in the interim and risking the huge majority he holds in parliament.
“In the event of a free and fair election, Pashinian’s party would likely secure a reduced but still working majority,” Giragosian said. “The opposition is widely unpopular and deeply discredited. It’s a lack of an alternative candidate and credible rival that tends to strengthen Pashinian’s position.”
A key part of the opposition appears to come from Armenia’s former leadership, ousted by Pashinian in the country’s “Velvet Revolution” of 2018. Critics say the leader has failed to make genuine reforms after the rare democratic breakthrough for his ex-Soviet homeland. But Pashinian’s supporters accuse the old guard of using the losses during the war as a pretext to gain retribution.
While the political sparring rumbles forward, many in Armenia just seem to be turned off by the wrangling as the country struggles to adapt to the new reality after last year’s conflict.
“For most of the people, there is apathy, fatigue, reluctance and a lack of faith in both of the sides,” said Alexander Iskandaryan, the director of Yerevan’s Caucasus Institute. And however the situation plays out, the rancor and divisions look set to drag on. “The turbulence will continue under any scenario — there is no doubt about that,” Iskandaryan said.
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