Armenia gets a new president but power remains with Serzh Sargsyan

Armenia gets a new president but power remains with Serzh Sargsyan

Armenia’s parliament is expected to elect Armen Sarkissian to the presidency today, with incumbent Serzh Sargsyan taking up the post of prime minister.

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Photo: Reuters/David Mdzinarishvil

Armenia’s parliament is expected to elect Armen Sarkissian to the presidency today, with incumbent Serzh Sargsyan taking up the post of prime minister.

Today’s power shift is the first since a 2015 referendum abolished direct presidential elections and curtailed the president’s powers in favour of a more influential prime minister. Mr Sarkissian, who once served as Armenia’s ambassador to the UK and briefly as prime minister in the mid-1990s, is thus expected to occupy a largely ceremonial position, with Mr Sargsyan continuing to wield real power.

Critics say the 2015 vote has led to a democratic deficit in Armenia. Indeed, Armenians now have less say in who governs them than at any point since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Such authoritarian tendencies are reflected throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia, where strongmen rule with an iron fist, often strengthened by hydrocarbon wealth.

Given that Sargsyan is likely to remain the most powerful man in Armenia, today’s election is mostly symbolic. No major changes are expected on key economic policies or the potentially explosive Nagorno-Karabakh issue, which continues to pose a threat to regional peace and security.

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