Armenian Prime Minister resigns, reasons yet unclear

On 3 April the Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian announced that he will resign. Why he took this unexpected decision is not yet clear. Sarkisian was six years in office. The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) said that Sarkisian announced his resignation at a meeting of its governing body chaired by President Serzh Sarkisian (no relation). Under the Armenian constitution, all government ministers must also step down if the prime minister is dismissed or decides to quit.
 
“The prime minister said that it is his personal decision,” HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov  said after the meeting. “He thanked all of his colleagues, all government members, and all HHK representatives for the joint work and asked us to grant his request.” The president should appoint a new prime minister within ten days after he accepted resignation of the government. The government will be formed within 20 days after the appointment of the prime minister.
 
Vote of No Confidence
The reasons for his resignation are yet to be explained. According to Sharmazanov, Sarkisian first tendered his resignation a month ago but was asked by the president to continue performing his duties until a Constitutional Court ruling on a controversial pension reform implemented by the government.

On 2 April the Constitutional Court (CC) of Armenia announced its 64-page ruling on several opposition MPs’ appeal that contests two provisions in the new law On Funded Pensions. The Court found that certain articles they of the law were unconstitutional. The new pension plan, which formally came into force in Armenia on January 1, 2014, is mandatory for those born in and after 1974 and voluntary for those born before 1974. In line with this plan, 5 to 10 percent of the monthly salaries in Armenia will be deducted and mandatorily be allocated to cumulative pension funds; the latter will be reimbursed as pensions once a person turns 63 years old.

Pension reform
The law caused fierce protests among Armenia’s civil society, and led to the establishment of the Dem.Am (“I am against”) civic initiative, which opposes the new pension law in Armenia. The four non-ruling-coalition parliamentary factions — the Armenian National Congress, Prosperous Armenia, ARF Dashnaktsutyun, and Heritage — likewise are against this new law, and they declare that its mandatory component is unconstitutional. After the CC ruling, the PM announced that he would organise a working group that will draft amendments to the law. These amendments have to be implemented before 30 September. Until that time, however, the law will remain in effect. To put pressure on the PM and the government, the opposition parties planned a ‘vote of no confidence’ in parliament for 28 April in response.

According to the secretary of opposition party ‘Heritage’ Tevan Poghosyan, the resignation of Tigran Sargsyan was therefore expected, as they had demanded his resignation because of the controversial pension reforms. Spokesman of the HKK insisted however that the resignation has nothing to do with a vote of no confidence.

Customs Union

Tigran Sarkisian also went through a difficult period when President Sarkisian in an unexpected move decided to turn away from the concluded and ready Association Agreement with the EU and instead opt for membership in the Russian-led Customs Union. Previously, PM Tigran Sarkisian had been a strong opponent of Customs Union membership for Armenia, speaking out in favour of the EU Association Agreement on several occasions.

Armenian officials say the PM’s resignation will not hinder the Customs Union process. On 1 March Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian said in Yerevan that his country would accomplish all necessary tasks by mid-April in order to join the Customs Union,. The Eurasian Economic Community Customs Union, whose members are Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, came into existence on 1 January 2010. The Union is geared toward economic integration and removal of all customs borders and limits its members’ possibilities of trade with the European Union.

The opposition party Heritage states that the PM’s resignation brings hope for the possibility of reforming the country “from top to bottom”. According to the constitution, the President will discuss the composition of the government with the majority and all factions of the National Assembly.

By Merel Berkelmans 

Sources: Armenia Liberty, News Am I, YouTube: News Am, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, News Am II

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