Opposition protests have resumed in the Armenian capital after talks broke down between the ruling Republican party and the opposition,
forcing the prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan, to resign on Monday.
Thousands of people descended on Republic Square in the capital, Yerevan, on Wednesday morning after a call from the opposition leader, Nikol Pashinyan, to return to the streets until the government agreed to a transition of power.
Drivers beeped their horns in support of the demonstrations and opponents of the government shouted demands for an election.
Pashinyan led nearly two weeks of protests against Sargsyan, Armenia’s most powerful politician for more than 10 years, prompted by accusations that he had manipulated the constitution to cling to power.
Wednesday was a test of whether the protest movement could maintain its momentum beyond Sargsyan’s resignation. Pashinyan has demanded the government initiate a transfer of power, first by electing a “people’s prime minister” and then by holding snap elections.
The resumption of protests, which have crippled downtown Yerevan and have brought the government to the brink of collapse, could transform this Caucasus nation of about three million people. The opposition claims the ruling party has led the country into stagnation.
The protests could also send shockwaves through the region, where strongmen and winner-takes-all politics dominate many countries. But protest leaders have also been careful not to paint the demonstrations as pro-western or anti-Russian, focusing on an internal agenda led by honest elections.
Allies of Pashinyan said on Wednesday that they were ready to go “to the end”. Ararat Mirzoyan, a member of parliament for the opposition Civil Contract party, said: “Two days ago we left the people with the understanding that we’re going all the way to the end, especially until the end of the Republican party.”
Civil Contract’s offices were a buzz of activity on Wednesday, as protest leaders discussed the possibility that the Republican party could collapse. On Wednesday afternoon the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation said it would withdraw from a governing coalition with the Republican party.
Asked whether he thought Karen Karapetyan, the acting prime minister, could step down in the coming days, Mirzoyan said “it’s going to happen soon”.
Protesters on Wednesday fanned out across the city, draping Armenian flags over their cars and blocking off Yerevan’s central avenues. On one street corner students danced a traditional Armenian kochari as a man nearby in aviator sunglasses spun his Porsche in circles at an intersection. One man in fatigues leading a group of about 200 students said he was an active duty soldier who had left his barracks to join the protest. “All the soldiers are with us. Even if they’re not here in person, they’re here in spirit,” said the man, Vazgen, who would not give a last name.
Another citizen, Manvel Martirosyan, said he was an IT worker who was tired of corruption. “I can come out here every day for as long as I want. It won’t be good for my business, but that’s a sacrifice I’m ready to make because the [Republican party] has to go.”
Karapetyan and an ally of Sargsyan, suggested on Wednesday morning that a parliamentary election could be held to end the political crisis. “If Pashinyan is the people’s choice, the people can elect him,” he said.
In a video appeal posted on Facebook after he led thousands of people on a march, Pashinyan said: “The Republican party is thinking about taking advantage of Serzh Sarksyan’s resignation and wants to keep power. We can’t agree on the appointment of this party’s representative as prime minister and we can’t allow this corrupted system to continue to exist.” He urged supporters to “come to the square and finish the velvet revolution”.
Pashinyan was set to begin talks with the ruling party on Wednesday, but the talks were abruptly aborted after Karapetyan accused the opposition leader of dictating terms.
Pashinyan, in a press conference Tuesday evening, said the protests would continue until a temporary “people’s prime minister” was elected. He said that he would be ready to become prime minister if the people willed it.
The latest protests will be a crucial test of whether the opposition can maintain its momentum after Sargsyan’s resignation.
Karen Karapetyan, the acting prime minister and an ally of Sargsyan, suggested on Wednesday morning that a parliamentary election could be held to end the political crisis. “If Pashinyan is the people’s choice, the people can elect him,” he said.
In a video appeal posted on Facebook after he led thousands of people on a march, Pashinyan said: “The Republican party is thinking about taking advantage of Serzh Sarksyan’s resignation and wants to keep power.
“We can’t agree on the appointment of this party’s representative as prime minister and we can’t allow this corrupted system to continue to exist.”
He urged supporters to “come to the square and finish the velvet revolution”.
Pashinyan played a key role in ousting Sargsyan, organising many of the protests and calling for the prime minister to go in a televised exchange, before being imprisoned and then released. He had been due to start talks with the ruling party on Wednesday, but they were cancelled late on Tuesday.
Sargsyan was a close ally of Vladimir Putin and Russia is closely watching events in the former Soviet republic, where it has two military bases. On Tuesday, the Kremlin said it was pleased the situation appeared stable for now.
The Armenian president, Armen Sarkissian, another ally of the former prime minister, was sworn in as president earlier this month after being elected by parliament.
Under a revised constitution approved in a 2015 referendum, most state powers shifted to the prime minister, while the presidency became a largely ceremonial post.
In another move likely to prolong the political crisis that has rocked one of Russia’s closest allies from the former Soviet Union, Pashinyan said he was ready to be the country’s next prime minister “if people put this responsibility on me”, and would keep up pressure on the ruling elite until it agreed to real change.
In Los Angeles, thousands of demonstrators attended a rally on Tuesday to mark the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian genocide.