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Armenian Parliament Rejects Opposition Leader Pashinian As PM

Pashinian Calls For General Strike In Armenia
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WATCH: Pashinian Calls For General Strike In Armenia

YEREVAN -- Armenia's parliament has voted 45-to-55 against opposition leader Nikol Pashinian as the country's next prime minister, leaving him eight votes short of the simple majority he needed to win the post.

The vote at a special session of parliament on May 1 came shortly after Vahram Baghdasarian, head of the Republican Party of Armenia's (HHK) parliamentary faction, announced that his party would vote against Pashinian.

Pashinian responded to Baghdasarian's announcement by telling the legislature that the HHK's parliamentary faction had "destroyed itself irreversibly" by "announcing war against its own people" and refusing to support his candidacy.

WATCH: LIVE feed of RFE/RL's Armenian Service

Under Armenia's constitution, the failure of parliament to confirm a prime minister triggers a second vote by the legislature that has been scheduled for May 8.

Baghdasarian and Pashinian both indicated that they would take part in negotiations before that vote.

But Pashinian also called on citizens across the country to join a general strike beginning on May 2 to strengthen his negotiating position on opposition demands that he be appointed as the next prime minister.

Speaking to tens of thousands of supporters gathered at Republic Square in central Yerevan after the legislature's vote, Pashinian said all workers should stop going to their jobs and all students should stop attending their classes beginning on May 2.

He also called for protesters to continue "nonviolent, peaceful acts of civil disobedience" -- including the blocking of all roads and highways in the country, the closure of railroads, and airports.

If parliament on May 8 fails again to confirm a prime minister, the legislature would automatically be dissolved and early general elections would be scheduled with the Republican-led acting government in charge of the electoral process.

Pashianian insists that only an interim government led by a "people's candidate" -- himself -- can organize and conduct parliamentary elections that are free, fair, and transparent.

Baghdasarian's announcement and the vote was assailed by angry shouts and waving fists from thousands of people who stood in central Yerevan's Republic Square throughout the day watching the parliamentary proceedings on a large screen television.

The 42-year-old Pashinian was the only candidate in the May 1 vote. He secured the support of all opposition factions in the 105-seat parliament, but the Republican Party controls a majority of 58 seats.

Speaking to lawmakers ahead of the vote, Pashinian said that "the Republican Party's attempts at thwarting this ballot will start a political tsunami."

Pashinian: 'The People Have Won'
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In the run-up to the vote, the Republic Party said it would not hinder the election of Pashinian if the other factions in parliament support his candidacy.

But parliament deputy speaker and Republican Party spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov said on May 1 that he was not pleased with what he heard in a meeting with Pashinian a day earlier.

"Given the meeting we had yesterday, I am sure Mr. Pashinian cannot be the prime minister," Sharmazanov told reporters on May 1.

Pashinian’s Yelk faction has nine seats in the 105-seat parliament. The Tsarukian Alliance has 31 seats and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) has seven.

'No To Serzh'

More than two weeks of peaceful antigovernment protests led by Pashinian forced Sarkisian to step down as prime minister after he was Armenia's president for a decade.

Term limits forced him to leave, but lawmakers quickly elected him as prime minister in April, a move that came after legal changes that weakened the presidency's power while bolstering the prime minister's.

Opponents of Sarkisian launched the protests, which brought thousands of Armenians out into the streets, saying the new system would have allowed pro-Moscow Sarkisian to remain the former Soviet republic's leader indefinitely.

They also accuse Sarkisian and his dominant Republican Party of widespread corruption and failing to raise living standards.

Pashinian said that he saw fresh parliamentary elections as the way forward once a new government is formed.

"It would be necessary to hold early parliamentary elections after an interim government is formed. Mechanisms of the early elections should be devised as soon as possible. This election is unavoidable. It would be the final stage of the people's victory," he said in parliament.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, Interfax, and TASS