April 14, 2018 / 1:02 PM / in 9 days

Armenian ruling party nominates former president Sarksyan for PM's job

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenia’s ruling Republican party nominated former President Serzh Sarksyan as its candidate for prime minister on Saturday, drawing renewed criticism from opponents who accuse Sarksyan of engineering a power grab.

FILE PHOTO: Armenia's current President Serzh Sarksyan (R) and his wife Rita leave a polling station after voting during the presidential election in Yerevan, February 18, 2013. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Sarksyan’s ally Armen Sarkissian, a former prime minister and ambassador to Britain, was sworn in as president on Monday after being elected by parliament in a vote that was meant to herald the start of a power shift to the premier and parliament.

Under the terms of an amended constitution approved in 2015 by referendum, the presidency will become largely ceremonial.

“The (party’s) council discussed this issue and unanimously supported (Sarksyan’s) candidacy,” the Republicans said in a statement.

Parliament, which is dominated by the ruling party, is due to make a final decision on April 17.

The Dashnaktsutsiun Party, the Republicans ruling coalition ally, also backs Sarksyan’s candidacy, meaning he should easily secure the simple majority needed for election. No other candidates are running.

Opposition leaders have accused Sarksyan of changing the nation’s political system to ensure he can remain in power, and have been holding protest rallies in recent weeks.

Sarksyan, who became president in 2008, had denied any intention of becoming premier until March, when he said his appointment would allow him to share the benefit of his experience.

Hundreds of opposition protesters marched in the center of the capital, Yerevan, on Saturday, waving national flags and chanting: “Make a stand, say “No” to Serzh!”

Armenia, a country of around three million people in the southern Caucasus, seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991, but remains dependent on Russia for aid and investment.

Many Armenians accuse the government of corruption and mismanaging the economy.

Reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchyan; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Helen Popper

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