YEREVAN—As thousands continued protests in the streets of Yerevan on Tuesday for the fifth consecutive days, Armenia’s National Assembly, by a vote of 76 to 17, elected Armenia’s former president, Serzh Sarkisian, as prime minister—the head of the government under Armenia’s reformed constitution that made it a parliamentary government.
The protesters that have been staging demonstrations since Friday opposing Sarkisian’s new role as the country’s prime minister, gathered in the streets of Yerevan, with their leader, parliament member Nikol Pashinyan from the Yelk faction, calling for a “velvet revolution.”
Inside the parliament building, which was fortified under heavy security, lawmakers met and cast their ballots to elect Sarkisian, who was nominated Saturday by his ruling Republican Party of Armenia Leadership council and whose nomination was endorsed by the government’s coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
In his acceptance speech, Sarkisian thanked his fellow party members and the ARF, saying, “We as a political coalition have assumed a serious responsibility, understand its scales and are ready to move on the path of ensuring the Fatherland’s development and providing our people with better living conditions through a coordinated consistent work.”
Sarkisian also thanked the Tsarukyan alliance, whose leader, businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, did not attend the session and a dozen of its member voted against his candidacy. He also thanked the Yelk alliance, whose members rejected Sarkisian’s premiership.
In his remarks, Sarkisian Sarkisian denounced the ongoing protests and called into question their effectiveness, downplaying the size and breadth of the crowd. He paused to urge the Yelk lawmakers to call on Pashinian to return “from the street to the parliament. It will be your greatest achievement, because I have never been alone in our political power. We have seen a lot of blood, but even I have never had thirst for our enemy’s blood.”
Earlier in the day, Armenian police who had clashed on Monday with protesters, sending some 40 people to the hospital, issued a warning that they were mandated by law to disperse the protests. Those warnings were ignored and the protesters continued to join the demonstrations, which culminated in a massive rally at Republic Square in downtown Yerevan. On Tuesday, police arrested some 80 demonstrators, among them young activists and students.
The demonstrators vowed to continue their protests for a what they call a democratic Armenia in the coming days. For now, however, the business of Armenia government goes on with Sarkisian at the helm.
Immediately after the vote, President Armen Sarkissian appointed Sarkisian as prime minister, per constitutional provisions, and later the two met.
In addressing the protests in Yerevan, President Sarkissian said violence should be ruled out.
“The right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important principles of democracy. The opinion of every citizen of the Republic of Armenia is important for the country,” said President Sarkissian. “At the same time, violence, illegal actions and restriction of the rights of others must be ruled out during free expression of will.”
“The security of our country and national solidarity should be a primary and undisputed necessity for all of us,” added the president.