In Depth

Armenia’s prime minister resigns after just six days

Mass protests at ‘constitutional power grab’ unexpectedly forces out former president

Armenia’s Prime Minister has resigned after less than a week in power, following days of large-scale street protests.

Serzh Sargsyan, who spent a decade as president of the small central Asian country, unexpectedly quit yesterday following 11 consecutive days of demonstrations over what was seen as an “unconstitutional power grab”, reports CNN.

Hundreds of uniformed soldiers joined anti-government demonstrators on Monday after the arrest of opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan and hundreds of others at the weekend.

Their success “demonstrates that in a post-Soviet country change is possible through a peaceful, organic, grassroots movement”, says the BBC’s Rayhan Demytrie. “But it’s important to remember that the government in Armenia remains the same, and the new acting prime minister is an old ally of Mr Sargsyan. Only the leadership has changed.”

Putin ally

A former Soviet military officer, Sargsyan was first elected as president of the impoverished Moscow-allied country in 2008, serving two terms until he was forced to step down earlier this month having completed his maximum time in office.

Changes to the constitution brought in in 2015 made the presidency largely ceremonial and Sargsyan repeatedly stated he would not run for the post of prime minister, which is not constrained by term limits.

Protests broke out earlier this month when he announced he would in fact stand, “leading to concern of authoritarian rule descending on the country”, says CNN.

Sargsyan has been criticised for his close ties to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who has also moved between roles as president and prime minister to maintain his grip on power in Russia.

In a last-ditch attempt to quell the unrest, police yesterday agreed to release Pashinyan - but it was not enough to save the embattled PM, who announced his resignation in an online statement.

“The street movement is against my tenure,” he said. “I am fulfilling your demand. Peace, harmony and reasoning for our country. Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was wrong.”

Residents of the capital, Yerevan, poured out on the streets to celebrate his resignation, reports The Guardian.

Writing on Facebook, Pashinyan congratulated the people for the resignation: “You have won, proud citizens of the Republic of Armenia. And no one can seize this victory from you. I congratulate you, victorious people.”

Al Jazeera's Robin Forestier-Walker said Sargsyan’s resignation was “astonishing”.

“We saw soldiers take to the streets, we saw priests, children and their parents, young and old coming out to show Armenia was really united in wanting these changes,” he said. “This is an indication of how much people in Armenia have realised that they had the power to affect change in a system that was widely regarded as corrupt.”

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