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Armenian Opposition Leader Elected Premier

Armenian Opposition Leader Elected PremierArmenian Opposition Leader Elected Premier

The Armenian parliament has elected opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan as the country's new prime minister, after an outpouring of populist anger against the ruling elite in the former Soviet republic.

Thousands of Pashinyan's supporters, who had gathered in a central square in the capital Yerevan, to watch the vote on large screens, erupted into cheers when the result was announced, CNN reported.

The result amounts to a peaceful revolution in Armenia, a small nation of around three million people that borders Russia, Turkey and Iran. It marks a dramatic split from a corps of leaders who have run Armenia since the late 1990s, developing a reputation for corruption and cronyism.

The tipping point came two weeks ago when veteran leader Serzh Sargsyan, who had served the maximum two terms as president of Armenia, was appointed prime minister—complete with new powers conferred by a controversial referendum he had supported. Many Armenians felt it was little more than a power grab.

Pashinyan, a former journalist and leader of the opposition Civil Contract party, put himself at the front of the protest movement as thousands of people took to the streets in Yerevan.

Stung by the protests, Sargsyan stepped down. But his Republican party, which holds a majority in parliament, thwarted Pashinyan's first bid to replace him. In Tuesday's vote, some Republicans switched sides, and Pashinyan won the backing of 59 lawmakers, with 42 voting against him. On both occasions, Pashinyan was the only candidate.

>Saluting Supporters

Within an hour of the vote, Pashinyan traveled to Republic Square in central Yerevan to greet his supporters, who waved Armenian flags and balloons.

Unlike many previous appearances in the square, Pashinyan wore a suit and was flanked by bodyguards.

The opposition leader had cut a rebellious figure during the protests of the last few weeks. His black cap, camouflage T-shirt and bandaged hand, reportedly injured on barbed wire, were in stark contrast to the suited Sargsyan.

>Brewing for Years

Armenia's turmoil began on April 17 when Sargsyan, who had previously served two five-year terms as president, was appointed prime minister—just eight days after his presidency ended.

Thousands took to the streets in protest, driving Sargsyan to step down eleven days later. His deputy, Karen Karapetyan, was named acting prime minister.

According to Laurence Broers, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank's Russia and Eurasia program, discontent with Sargsyan had been brewing for years.

In response to Sargsyan's appointment as prime minister, Pashinyan called for a campaign of peaceful, civil disobedience, harnessing a widespread desire for change among ordinary Armenians.

Following the failed vote last week, Pashinyan called for a nationwide day of protest. Demonstrators brought roads in Yerevan to a standstill, blocking roads to the main airport and to government buildings.

According to Broers, what matters now is whether Pashinyan can turn his hand to coalition-building skills, "because people have got to get off the street and into institutions."

 

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