Armenian opposition leader sweeps to power

All eyes on Russia after radical protest leader, Nikol Pashinyan, elected prime minister

Armenian opposition leader and new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan
(Image credit: Sergie Gapon/AFP/Getty Images)

Armenia’s main opposition leader, who was imprisoned less than a month ago, has swept to power in a peaceful revolution.

Nikol Pashinyan was elected by the Armenian parliament yesterday, after an outpouring of populist anger against the ruling elite in the former Soviet republic.

CNN says it “marks a dramatic split from a corps of leaders who have run Armenia since the late 1990s, developing a reputation for corruption and cronyism”.

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Events in Armenia have moved at lightning speed since former president Serzh Sargsyan was appointed prime minister last month.

Many saw this as a power grab by an elite and corrupt cabal, with thousands of people taking to the streets to protest, and Pashinyan himself quickly arrested.

Despite a late move to appease protesters, Sargsyan eventually bowed to pressure and resigned just six days after he took office.

Now Pashinyan has persuaded a parliament dominated by Sargsyan’s own party to back him as prime minister, leading to jubilant scenes in the capital Yerevan.

It is a remarkable turnaround for Pashinyan, described by The Guardian as “a fiery political orator who has spent the past decade in street politics”, and who has been repeatedly imprisoned and survived an assassination attempt in 2004.

On the impact to the region as a whole, “Armenia's peaceful uprising against single-party rule - and the way its political leaders responded - is seen as unprecedented for a former Soviet state” says the BBC.

All eyes are now on Russia, the regional power player and Armenia’s neighbour, to see how it will respond. The Kremlin press service reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory message to Pashinyan which said he hoped the new prime minister would “promote stronger, friendly, and allied relations between our countries and partnership within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.”

Pashinyan has promised Armenia will continue to be a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and continue its military cooperation with Russia.

But while it has largely stayed on the sidelines throughout the turmoil of the past month, CNN says Russia, which retains a military base in Armenia, “would bristle if events showed signs of spiralling out of control”.

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