Armenia has inaugurated a new president as the country prepares to transition to a system where the president has far less power. Armen Sarkisian took the oath of office on Monday.
Armenia’s new President Armen Sarkisian was sworn in on Monday but power is expected to remain with his predecessor, who will likely become prime minister as the ex-Soviet republic shifts to a parliamentary form of government.
The former ambassador to the United Kingdom took the oath of office as president at an extraordinary parliamentary session, placing his right hand on a 7th-century manuscript of the New Testament and the Armenian Constitution.
The 64-year-old then received blessings from the head of the Armenian Church, Catholicos Garegin II.
“We must consistently fight against corruption and social injustice,” he told lawmakers. “We will succeed if we rally round this goal and work together, instead of drawing dividing lines.”
Sarkisian’s inauguration allows controversial 2015 constitutional amendments to come into force, turning the country into a parliamentary republic with a strong prime minister.
The political shift was initiated by the outgoing president Serzh Sarkisian who is no relation to the new leader and was approved in a referendum with 63 percent of the voters backing the changes.
Critics of pro-Moscow Serzh Sarkisian, 63, say the reforms have been designed to increase his power in a new capacity as premier.
He had already served as premier in 2007-2008 and so far has not explicitly confirmed that he will seek to become prime minister again.
The ruling party has defended the constitutional reform as a move aimed at consolidating the Caucasus nation’s democracy and improving the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches.
But the opposition has complained of widespread violations at polling stations during the December 2015 referendum, prompting thousands to rally in protest.
Council of Europe observers have said the referendum was marred by allegations of large-scale vote buying and multiple voting, among other irregularities.
A ceremonial presidency
Former president Serzh Sarkisian’s plans for the future have become a central intrigue of Armenian politics.
“I don’t aspire to the position of prime minister… But in case I ultimately opt for nominating my candidature, I will dedicate more time to sharing my experience with young leaders,” Sarkisian told journalists in March.
Ruling Republican Party spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov on Monday said, “the party simply doesn’t have a more experienced or wiser leader to nominate for the prime-ministerial post than Serzh Sarkisian.”
Next Monday is the deadline for the nomination of prime-ministerial candidates.
The new head of government, who will also serve as the nation’s commander-in-chief and cabinet members will be nominated by the ruling party and appointed by the president by May 10.
Hand-picked by the Republican Party, Armen Sarkisian was the sole candidate for the now mostly ceremonial presidential post.
Elected on March 2 by the National Assembly for a single term of seven years, the president is expected to mainly rubber-stamp the prime minister’s decisions.
Under the new legislation he is not part of the country’s Security Council.
A former physics professor, Armen Sarkisian briefly served as prime minister in the 1990s.
His predecessor, a former military officer, Serzh Sarkisian was president of the landlocked South Caucasus nation of 2.9 million since winning a vote in 2008.
After that poll, 10 people died in bloody clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate.
Serzh Sarkisian won a second term in 2013.