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Armenia parliament to elect Sarkissian as new president

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Presidential candidate Armen Sarkissian addresses the National Assembly in Yerevan on March 01, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Armenia's parliament is set to elect Armen Sarkissian on Friday as national president to succeed Serzh Sarksyan, who opposition leaders say could become prime minister and continue to wield power.

Sarkissian's election to a single seven-year term is unopposed because the ruling Republican Party supports him even though he is not a member of any party. One opposition party says it will back him while another has failed to gather sufficient votes to present its own candidate and will vote against.

Armenia seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991 but remains dependent on Russia for aid and investment. Many Armenians accuse the government of corruption and mishandling the economy.

The country is in line with some other former Soviet republics and countries in eastern Europe in moving away from direct democracy and towards strong central leadership, according to analysts.

Sarksyan became president at an election in 2008 and nominated former prime minister Sarkissian in January to succeed him as his term neared its end.

The legislature can elect a president with a three-quarters majority under the terms of a constitution approved in 2015 in a referendum that effectively abolishes direct presidential elections.

Under that constitution, however, the presidency will become largely ceremonial and power will shift to the prime minister and parliament.

"If I'm elected, I will put all my efforts and my experience into the solution of national problems," Sarkissian told the parliament on Thursday.

Members of the ruling party said Sarkissian, 64, a businessman and Yerevan's ambassador to Britain, was the best candidate for the post given his experience as a diplomat and a manager as well as ties abroad.

One opposition faction decided to vote against.

"Your affiliation with a (ruling) political team and a responsibility, which you take, put us on different side of barricades," said opposition MP Ararat Mirzoyan.

Sarksyan denies that the new constitution was engineered to allow him to continue to dominate Armenia, a country of around three million people.

But many members of the ruling party say Sarksyan would be the best candidate for prime minister given his experience, especially in negotiations over neighboring Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Armenia's President Serzh Sarksyan arrives for an EU Eastern Partnership summit with six eastern partner countries at the European Council in Brussels on November 24, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Fighting between ethnic Azeris and Armenian separatists backed by Armenia first erupted in 1991 and a ceasefire was agreed in 1994. But Azerbaijan and Armenia accuse each other of violence around Nagorno-Karabakh and along their common border.

Clashes over control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies inside Azerbaijan but is controlled by ethnic Armenians, have intensified in the past three years and turned into a violent flare-up in April 2016.

Armenia's ruling party won parliamentary elections last April with 49 percent of the vote while the opposition Tsarukyan Alliance took 27 percent.

(Source: Reuters)

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