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Armenia: New president elected amid political divisions

Armenia’s new President Vahagn Khachatrian in 2021 (Source: WikiMedia Commons)

On 3 March, Armenia’s National Assembly has elected a new president after the sudden resignation of Armen Sarkisian last January. Vahagn Khachatrian, supported by PM Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, was elected in the second round. Despite an election boycott by the opposition, the 71 votes he gained were sufficient.

Who is Khachatrian?

The 62-year-old Khachatrian is a well-known politician in Armenia, and a former mayor of Yerevan and MP. Since 2021, he served in Pashinian’s cabinet as a Minister of High-Tech Industry. He said that he wishes to be a president for all Armenian citizens, not just for members of the ruling party.

The powers of the president are limited in Armenia. Khachatrian’s main concern seems to be the international position of Armenia, especially after the devastating 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war with Azerbaijan. He said that the country’s security and defense capabilities need to increase, and desires stability in the region. “We must get rid of fears, understand that our region should become a platform for cooperation. We have neighbors, we must be able to live in peace with them. If society has a different vision, then we are leading the country to destruction.”

Former president resigned over geopolitics

Armenia’s former president, Armen Sarkisian, resigned on 23 January over disagreements with PM Pashinian over negotiations with Azerbaijan. He allegedly experienced a lack of power to influence policies during the crisis and criticized the PM for being left out of negotiations and disagreed with the removal of Armenia’s military leaders during heavy anti-government protests.

2015 constitution amendment

In 2015, Armenia’s constitution was amended and his position has become mainly ceremonial. The president is not elected directly by the public, but by the National Assembly, and remains in office for seven years. In the first round, a three-fifths majority is needed. Khachatrian was chosen in the second round, in which a simple majority is sufficient.

Opposition boycott

The full Armenian opposition boycotted the vote. They abstained from voting and did not list any candidates for the presidential position. The “Armenia” and “With Honor” factions of the National Assembly said in a joint statement that “although the institution of the President should act as a truly neutral institution uniting the society, the government in power has decided to nominate and elect a President representing the ruling force only.”

In Armenia, the Russian-brokered peace deal after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has enraged many. Furthermore, its post-Soviet economy is faltering. Armenians blame the government for corruption and economic mismanagement and during fierce anti-government protests, many called for Pashinian to step down. It is doubtful whether Khachatrian, a former minister, can become a president that can heal political divisions in the country.

Sources: Al Jazeera Radio Free Europe JAM News

Photo: WikiMedia Commons