President Armen Sarkissian stunned the country by announcing his resignation late Sunday evening, creating a leadership void in Armenia, which is on a tumultuous domestic political trajectory.
In a statement posted on the website of the president’s office, Sarkisian said that the largely ceremonial role envisioned for the president prevented him from having an impact of Armenia’s foreign, economic and domestic policies.
During a virtual press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that he learned about Sarkissian’s decision mere hours from its publication.
“The decision was made by the President,” Pashinyan told reporters. “I learned about it hours before it was made public. He called me three and a half hours before the publication yesterday, and we talked about it. I asked the President of the Republic if he was discussing the issue with me or he was simply informing me that he had made the decision. I tried to understand whether the decision was subject to discussion or not. After that, he said he had made a decision.”
He said that since Sarkissian was elected president in 2018, Armenia’s Constitution had not changed, thus neither had any provisions about the president’s powers had been altered.
While saying that he and his political team had not discussed potential candidates for the job, Pashinyan hinted that he would want a loyalist to occupy the the office of the president.
“I think that we must go for a solution that will ensure political harmony between the president, the government and the parliament majority, especially now that we are faced with very serious challenges,” he told the virtual news conference on Monday.
Sarkissian was on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates last week, following which his office said that he had traveled abroad for a medical examination.
The president’s resignation provided a rare convergence of views among Armenia lawmakers, who are usually at each other’s throats in the legislature.
Members of the ruling Civil Contract party, as well as opposition Armenia and I Have Honor alliances all agreed that Sarkissian was fully aware of the limits to the presidential powers when he assumed the position almost four years ago.
Under Armenia’s Constitution, parliament speaker Alen Simonyan will take over as interim president if Sarkissian does not withdraw his resignation within a week. In that case, the National Assembly will have to elect a new head of state within the next 35 days.
To become president in the first round of voting a candidate has to be backed by at least 81 members of the 107-seat parliament. The legal threshold is set at 65 votes for the second round. Pashinyan’s Civil Contract controls 71 parliament seats, putting it in a position to install the new president.