Leadership Changes in Parliament with New Speaker
YEREVAN—Armenia’s new parliament convened on Thursday, with President Serzh Sarkisian reappointing Karan Karapetyan as prime minister. The parliament elected former health minister Ara Babloyan as its speaker.
The Republican Party of Armenia’s Eduard Sharmazanov was re-elected as deputy speaker along with Armenia’s former justice minister Arpine Hovannesyan.
Following the April 2 parliamentary elections, which ushered in the new 105-member legislative body, Armenia is on its way to becoming a parliamentary government in accordance with the new constitution, which was adopted in 2015. The transition will be completed in March 2018 when Sarkisian’s term will end and parliament will elect a new president, who will have a symbolic role with most powers falling on the shoulders of the prime minister and parliament.
After the new parliamentary session convened, Sarkisian signed a decree re-appointing Karapetyan as prime minister. He has pledged widespread economic reforms in Armenia as a way to elevate the country from its current socio-economic woes, which include large scale emigration. As is customary, the entire cabinet resigned in anticipation of a new government, which will be announced in coming days.
The Republican Party of Armenia has 58 seats in the new parliament along with seven seats held by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which signed a coalition agreement with the ruling party last week strapping itself into a partnership until the 2022 parliamentary election. Businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s bloc and the opposition Yelk bloc have 31 and nine seats respectively.
The first session of the new parliament included prayers and blessings by His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians.
President Sarkisian delivered a speech that aimed at advancing the principles of the new constitution and a rallying cry for collective efforts to advance and strengthen Armenia.
“We have put in place new constitutional structures and orders after a heated debate. The goal of these changes is to have a more balanced, effective, accountable and consolidated power. As to how we are successful in achieving this goal will largely depend on people in this chamber,” the president said.
“We have stressed that shared ideology will be the main driving force for political parties. But as the head of state and leader of the largest political party I urge all political forces in the National Assembly, in selecting people or forming bodies working in the spheres of justice and law-enforcement, to be guided not by the principle of ‘he or she shares our ideology’, but by the principle of ‘he or she is a professional in this job’. Only with this approach can we ensure an effective system of justice,” he said.
In his address, Sarkisian singled out “injustice” as what he called the most dangerous “internal enemies” of Armenia saying, “Today, we declare a new stage of war against injustice.”
He also called on all political forces to work together, despite differences, for the imperative to “build a strong Armenia.”
Sarkisian said that building a strong Armenia hinged on having long-term economic goals and targets “so that the difference between the per capita GDP indexes of Armenia and developed countries get gradually reduced.”
“In 2016-2040 we should ensure an average annual GDP growth of 5 percent and achieve a GDP level of over $57-60 billion,” said Sarkisian.
With military escalations in Artsakh this week, when Azerbaijan forces used guided missiles against targets in Artsakh, Sarkisian reiterated Armenia’s desire to end the status quo in the Artsakh conflict “but only if there is a comprehensive solution to the problem.”
Sarkisian said that Armenia has repeatedly advocated for resolving the conflict with Azerbaijan on the basis of “mutual concessions whose essence is the recognition and exercise by Artsakh of its right to self-determination.”
“Yes, on the basis of a compromise, and not unilateral concessions, yielding to Azerbaijani threats that otherwise a war is inevitable. We don’t want to maintain the status quo for a single day if we don’t have to. We don’t want to put the burden of resolving the problem on the shoulders of the generations to come, and this is what our common efforts with the mediating countries are aimed at,” said Sarkisian.
He emphasized, however, that while Armenia was ready for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, “we are also ready and will be ready to defend our homeland, our dignity and our freedom at any cost.”
Incidentally, the Yelk lawmakers boycotted Sarkisian’s speech.