Ruling party in Armenia withdraws from PM race after protests

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YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenia’s ruling party said on Saturday it would not put forward any candidate for prime minister to avoid stoking tensions after more than two weeks of street protests against the South Caucasus nation’s ruling elite.

A man holds an Armenian flag as he rides a horse before a rally held by supporters of opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan in the town of Ijevan, Armenia April 28, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Parliament is due to pick a prime minister on May 1 after the protests, fueled by anger over the ruling party’s behavior and official corruption, led on Monday to the resignation of Serzh Sarksyan as premier. Sarksyan had previously been president for a decade.

Eduard Sharmazanov, a spokesman for the ruling Republican Party, said on Saturday it would not put forward any candidate to become prime minister, but would vote as a bloc and unanimously after considering other candidates.

“By not putting forward a candidate, we will avoid confrontation and an increase in security risks … we are not putting anyone forward in the state’s interest,” he told reporters.

Protest leader Nikol Pashinyan, who describes himself as “the people’s choice”, has said the only acceptable scenario for him and his supporters is for parliament to elect him as prime minister next week.

People greet Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan as he arrives at a rally in the town of Ijevan, Armenia April 28, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich –

He then wants to snap parliamentary polls which would take place under a new election law.

Although the demonstrations have been peaceful, the upheaval has threatened to destabilize Armenia, an ally of Russia, in a volatile region riven by Armenia’s decades-long, low-level conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan.

The Republican Party holds a majority of seats in parliament, while Pashinyan does not currently have enough support in parliament to be elected prime minister.

Slideshow (3 Images)

The next parliamentary elections are not due until 2022. But if parliament twice fails to elect a new prime minister with majority support, early elections must be held.

The RIA news agency cited allies of Pashinyan as saying they would keep protesting and that the ruling party’s move was not enough because it did not back his candidacy.

Earlier on Saturday, Pashinyan called for more demonstrations.

“All protest actions, actions of civil disobedience, should be renewed with new force. The victory of the people must be recognized,” Pashinyan told a rally in the town of Ijevan.

“There can be no violence.”

Pashinyan called on supporters to organize big demonstrations in Yerevan, the capital, on May 1.

Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov in Moscow; Writing by Polina Devitt/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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