YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—President Serzh Sarkisian on Friday insisted that he did not force Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan to resign and pledged to significantly change the composition of Armenia’s government.
In his first public remarks on the unexpected resignation, he exposed his dissatisfaction with Tigran Sargsyan and members of the current cabinet, who must also step down in accordance with the Armenian constitution.
“The new government must be able to restore our citizens’ trust in reforms and its activities,” Sarkisian said at a meeting with senior officials from the Central Bank of Armenia. “I think there will be substantial changes in the new government. There is a need to take a fresh look at existing problems and areas.”
“I want to once again stress that the prime minister’s resignation was really a resignation, rather than [the result of] coercion,” added the president. Echoing statements by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), he also said that Tigran Sargsyan first tendered his resignation a month ago but that he asked the premier to stay on for now.
HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov insisted as recently as on March 27 that a change of the prime minister or the government is “not on our agenda.”
The resignation was announced late on Thursday following a meeting of the HHK leadership chaired by the head of state. Neither the ruling party nor Tigran Sargsyan gave any clear reason for the move. Serzh Sarkisian also did not shed light on it, implying only that it is not connected with a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the government sought by the Armenian opposition.
Two members of the outgoing cabinet, Education Minister Armen Ashotian and Economy Minister Vahram Avanesian, admitted on Friday that Tigran Sargsyan’s exit took them by surprise.
Speaking at the Central Bank, President Sarkisian also paid tribute to the man who has headed his government for the past six years. “Six years is a long time for a prime minister,” he said. “It is the most difficult, grueling and, maybe I’m not using the right word, thankless work. I occupied that position for a very short time [from 2007-2008,] but even that was enough for me to feel the strain. Unfortunately, this is the situation we are in.”
Under the constitution, Sarkisian has to appoint the next prime minister by April 14. The latter will have three weeks to form his cabinet and seek its endorsement by the parliament. The president gave no indications as to who Tigran Sargsyan’s successor will be.
Opposition parties ponder next steps
The parliamentary leaders of Armenia’s four main opposition parties met on Friday to discuss changes in their joint anti-government actions that were necessitated by Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan’s unexpected resignation, the RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) reports.
They claimed credit for the development, saying that it is the result of their growing cooperation. “Clearly, the plan of actions drawn up by us and, in particular, our rally slated for April 28 caused the authorities to panic,” said Levon Zurabian of the Armenian National Congress (HAK). “This is the only reason for that resignation.”
The HAK and the Prosperous Armenia (BHK), Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun parties planned to propose a vote of no confidence in Sargsyan’s cabinet on April 28. They also agreed last week to hold three-day rallies in Yerevan in support of that motion. The premier’s resignation has rendered the planned opposition actions meaningless, however.
“The question of the government’s resignation is now out,” Zharangutyun’s Ruben Hakobian told reporters after the meeting. “But joint actions remain on our agenda and we will soon clarify when we are going to take them.”
Hakobian said the four parties agreed to discuss the changed situation separately and then come up with proposals on what they should do now. They are “determined” to keep up their joint efforts and work out “a new agenda,” he said.
“I can only state one thing. We set a goal and we have attained the realization of its first stage. We must now move forward,” Zurabian said for his part.
The HAK and Zharangutyun stand for President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and the conduct of snap national elections. The BHK and Dashnaktsutyun favor a more cautious line, having so far called for only a change of the prime minister and other cabinet members.
BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian reacted cautiously to Tigran Sargsyan’s resignation, saying that it has not created a “totally new situation” in Armenia. Zham.am quoted him as saying that the onus is on the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) to “admit mistakes” and change government policies. Tsarukian also stressed the importance of continued cooperation among the four opposition forces.
Some Armenian media outlets reported that Tsarukian and President Sarkisian met on Friday. The HHK and the BHK did not confirm or refute the information.